There are very few leadership experiences that will help you to dig deeper into who you are and how you show up than leading a large change effort. How you internalize the change and how you behave based on that internalization could make or break successful change.
A company I worked at had several simultaneous large change efforts going on following two large mergers. One multimillion dollar change initiative would affect every employee in this global organization. The project leader, a young man lacking much leadership experience, provided very little direction, except when things didn’t go as he wanted — in which case, he reversed team decisions and micromanaged.
The project was a disaster. The team didn’t want him intimately involved because of his micromanaging, and they stopped telling him about decisions they’d made. However, he always found out somehow and would order directional changes to the project that made little sense because he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations. As you can imagine, his meddling would significantly delay implementation. It’s no surprise that the project tanked several millions of dollars later. The human toll of disenchantment was huge.
I do not know what happened to that leader since I left the organization right as the project was being shut down. But it is my hope that he learned:
To be reflective on his role in the issues. I sincerely hope that this leader spent some time considering what he did that may have contributed to the disaster. Instead of blaming the team (which might be a natural first reaction, but is pointless), was he able to see how he could have done things differently? There was some lessons to be learned, and he had the potential to do better in the future. I wonder if he saw it?
To learn to be more inspiring and influencing. This leader didn’t spend any time encouraging the team or thanking them for what was going well. When he did interact, he was focused on communicating what was wrong and telling the team to change directions that didn’t make sense, while the team felt helpless. When they were asked what they thought, he always had a reason why it wouldn’t work.
To listen to and trust his team. This team was highly knowledgeable, and many were experts in their field. Had he trusted them, the trust would have been returned; the team would have felt comfortable filling him in on project progress without fear that all of their hard work would be destroyed as they were told (once again) to start over.
These kind of corporate disasters that leak money and waste talented individuals happen more frequently than we care to admit. If you are leading a change effort, remember that how you show up based on your thoughts and actions, is an important element for success.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.