Is anything more difficult than being involved in a change, either at work or in life, where you feel no control?
Whether it’s sliding on an icy patch while driving or an expected yet undesired announcement of a structural change at the office, all involve you and are perceived as out of your control.
It’s bad enough if you are the employee. But what if you are the cause of this condition? What if you are the change agent, the boss, or the disrupter who created the rapid descent to apprehension in the first place? You had a great plan, you had the structure, you had the numbers, you had the resources, you were hired as the change agent and you could see the benefit in your mind.
And in reality, the entire organization is locked in the mud in the bottom of the change, looking back in regret over the loss, staring at their muck-covered shoes in the present, and wary to look forward towards a very uncertain future.
When I was in military training, this was when the captain would look at us junior officers and ask in a quizzical and threatening voice as a small smile formed on his face, “So what are you going to do now, leader?”
The consternation that hits us as the leaders of this shakeup becomes clear. We have managed effectively, yet we have failed to lead. We have done the research, checked the numbers, and received permission. But the people are not moving. More than that, they are becoming entrenched.
Now is the time for leadership. The facts are clear — the change is announced, the people are confused or in shock, and the market roils on with or without us.
On D-Day, 1944, the 29th U.S. Infantry Division was stranded on Omaha Beach. A young general officer named Norman Cota realized that his unit was wallowing in indecision. They were in a true valley of chaos and because of their inaction, men were dying and the attack had halted. Cota stood up on the beach, in withering enemy fire, and said to all who could hear: “Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland and be killed.” And in the lead, he began to move inland.
The soldiers followed him. Why? Because he had proven he was with them and was willing to make the first sacrifice in moving them forward. His personal leadership provided the direction and reinforced the commitment of those units. He aligned resources to break through a seawall that had stalled the advance, and his forces poured through.
In your office, you need to like Cota. The withering fire may even come from within the office, but you must understand the situation and offer a way forward. Demonstrate you understand by listening to others, yet do not let this be a detriment to action. If you are going to get the office moving, you need to be like Major General Cota and follow these important steps:
- Know what you want to achieve.
- Observe the current state in the office.
- Accept that this is where things are and that the office is not going to move forward unless you take action.
- Communicate your intent and why. Again, again, and again. One sage said, “Communicating too much is still not enough.”
- Demonstrate your personal commitment to the change.
- Offer a better vision for the office based upon your intent.
- Reward those who move forward.
Historians report that not everyone moved forward on that beach at the same time. But the general began a momentum that allowed the entire Army to use the breach in the seawall.
As a leader in your office, as the one who is responsible for making the change happen, you have a responsibility to the people around you. It’s your responsibility not only to affect change in structure or market value, but also to provide your people the opportunity to move through that change in a way that benefits them and the organization.
If you talk to an experienced racecar driver, they can impart a valuable lesson about skidding on ice. If you want to get out of a skid, they would say, look not to where you are, but where you want to go. You will naturally steer the car in that direction and back into control.
You’re the leader, you’ve made the change in the office, and the whole thing has entered a skid. Now you have to decide, as the driver of the change, which direction you want to go and how you will communicate that direction verbally and by example.
“So what are you going to do now, leader?”