08 Jan Managing Change: Reframing the role of leadership
Managing Change: Reframing the role of leadership in the era of constant evolution
In the 80s, when the AIDS epidemic was sending shockwaves in the global public consciousness, misunderstandings about the disease were commonplace. The average person was isolating themselves from those who had tested HIV positive, to the extent that they refrained from even touching patients. It was then that a simple gesture of compassion from Princess Diana made a huge difference. A cultural and fashion icon, she was also known for her humanitarian work. Some would say she was the most celebrated public figure of that decade, who was constantly in the limelight. Once, after inaugurating the UK’s first purpose built HIV/AIDS unit, Princess Diana shook the hands of an AIDS patient without wearing gloves. This simple and earnest act went on to change people’s attitude and perception of the disease forever, beyond geographical frontiers.
Although a collective is always more powerful than any single individual, it is human nature that groups respond to gestures, acts and words from those who they perceive as being in a leadership role. From public life, to sports and business, teams respond to cues from those at the helm and this is perhaps the single most important role of such a person. The role of a leader is not to issue orders, or even just to coordinate efforts and processes. It is to act in such a way as to manifest and empower what is best about the entire collective. Change is something that challenges us, especially as a group, which can find it harder to arrive at a common purpose and opinion for everyone to get behind. At such times, the most critical value that a leader can add to their organization, nation or society, is acting as a medium for what is sensible, decent and right.
Change and business leaders
After the recession of 2008, industry stalwarts began exploring different avenues and adopting alternative methodologies to avert future financial calamities. Business leaders have since concerned themselves with issues that were traditionally considered as falling within the purview of governing bodies and NGOs. In the last decade businesses have come to prioritize many progressive issues, such as inclusiveness, employee welfare, accountability and corporate social responsibility (CSR), often within a resource-constrained framework. Without excessively focusing on short-term returns, business leaders have embraced long-term value generation and capacity building. This is a welcome change, but present-day economic policies, political events and cultural changes present even more challenges for leaders to respond to.
In my opinion business leaders should invest in the creation of a flexible and responsive culture, as opposed to a static framework. A prescriptive, ‘tell-them-how’ approach to management is now obsolete, and with change accelerating, it is likely to become more and more ineffective. Leaders must be careful not to rationalize change from a cost standpoint alone, and neglect emotional aspects. For me, sensitivity is one of the most important strengths a contemporary leader can have. Especially when it comes to an emphasis on relating to employees as individuals, and trying to create inspiration rather than just compliance.
It should be a business imperative to communicate and contextualize change to employees, so as to induce a transformation that is ground up, rather than top-down. Change management is a process that needs to be tended to constantly. Leaders have to continuously align new strategies with core competencies, and chart new paths using precedents from past changes, with across-the-board involvement. Trying to force an organization onto a new path or adopting a new culture is counterproductive, especially when much smoother transition can be facilitated through consensus.
I believe leaders should stay abreast of current affairs and emerging trends, as well as skilling themselves effectively, so they incorporate changing contexts into their mindset. Regardless of models, businesses are becoming increasingly considerate of end user expectations. In order to leverage customer-centric market opportunities, leaders must first learn to address and incorporate change themselves.
The connected world has empowered leaders to embrace change far beyond their own personal experience. Public debates, conferences and events offer a great opportunity for leaders to engage with professionals from different domains and the general public. Together with their teams, leaders can conduct workshops, share knowledge and embrace change, rather than being intimidated by it.
Leaders must hold themselves responsible to contributing to a better tomorrow
It’s important to remember that we were inspired by a generation of leaders before us. More often than not, these were individuals to opened doors to new thoughts and enabled positive changes to come about. In fulfilling our role, before we pass on the torch to the next generation, we too must respond to constant evolution by using our discerning minds to identify those changes that contribute to a better tomorrow, and empower them.