The three things you must be willing to endure if you want to be a change leader.
To successfully lead change, you have to have the “Right Stuff” that will enable you to step out of your comfort zone into those of others, and then get them to step out of their comfort zone. It is far easier said than done. That’s why the majority of change leaders fail. Success isn’t about the tasks you must do; it’s about what you must be willing to endure. Indeed, don’t sign up to lead change unless you have the right stuff that will allow you to weather the following three situations:
1. Be lonely before being embraced: Anytime you step out of your comfort zone and into
someone else’s space, people are going to be wary of you in the beginning. Don’t take it
personally; remember it is human nature for people to be hesitant to embrace new
people and skeptical of new ideas until they understand your underlying motives. Until
that occurs, there will be times in which you will be in a crowded room, but will be all-
alone. People won’t embrace you until they know they can trust you. They won’t trust
you until you take the time to understand them. This is a critical point because you
can’t change what you don’t understand.
2. Be criticized before being congratulated: Change leaders think big. Anytime you do,
people will criticize you for trying to do too much, too soon, and too fast. The criticism
will be very personal because they will attack your competence (“You don’t know what
you are doing”), your culture (“You are not one of us, or you have forgotten who you
are”), and your character (“You can’t be trusted”). Once they understand that the
changes will work, their negative comments will turn into positive ones. Until they
come to that realization, you will have to endure.
3. Be wrong before being right: When leading change, you can have the best plans but
something will always go wrong before they go right. As a result, you can always count
on making mistakes and problems occurring. When they do, the criticism and
questioning will intensify. In fact, there will be times in which you will question
yourself. Here’s how to weather those storms: When you make a mistake, admit it. For
example, I once sent out an email to senior leaders with the subject line being "I was
wrong." The response to it was very positive. Being transparent and taking immediate
accountability will help to earn their trust. When problems occur, the first thing you
have to do is get directly involved in resolving it--not from a coming up with the
answers standpoint, but from a keeping everyone focused, aligned and aware until the
problem is resolved. People will also notice your direct involvement.
Summary: It’s very difficult being a change leader. That’s why most people don’t step up, and the majority of those who do aren’t successful. To step outside of your comfort zone and endure the loneliness, criticism, and being wrong, you must have a purpose that is greater than you. In the words of Bill George, Medtronic’s transformational former CEO and now Harvard professor, “Change leaders must have a True North.” In other words, the right stuff isn’t a matter of what you have in your head; it’s what you have in your heart.