ROHEI’s DCE Praise Mok was invited to share her insights on the challenges of leading and managing change in a series of three live interviews on CNA938 radio from the 8-10 July 2019.
In conversation with the hosts of the CNA938 Money Mind programme, Stanley Leong and Chew Wui Lynn, Praise discussed a number of topics that are on the minds of many leaders who are leading and managing change in their organisations today.
- How can leaders overcome a false sense of unity in their team?
- Does a leader need to have all the answers in the midst of leading through change?
- How can a leader manage the emotional aspects of a change transition?
How can leaders overcome a false sense of unity in their team?
Leadership teams are made up of strong, capable individuals who have succeeded in their own ways. They will often be very skilled but may also be entrenched in their own perspectives. They are sometimes not on the same page on the specific changes that need to be made or agree with the leader's direction.
The leadership team may demonstrate an artificial harmony, choosing to avoid the points of differences instead of addressing it directly.
What is artificial harmony and how does it affect teams?
“Artificial harmony is something that shows up quite often in the Singapore work culture. It is where you have a new initiative for example that is rolled out, and then everybody appears to be okay with it. During the meeting, it appears that nobody has any questions. However, the objections and doubts get surfaced once people are outside of the meeting space.
During the meeting, it appears that nobody has any questions. However, the objections and doubts get surfaced once people are outside of the meeting space...this artificial harmony actually sabotages the potential for really good planning.
That’s actually very risky for a leader because they don't have the benefit of those realities. The kind of solutions the leaders need to find require a lot more data, a lot more information - accurate information.
Without the benefit of those kinds of spaces for real conversation and honest feedback, what happens is that this artificial harmony actually sabotages the potential for really good planning moving forward.”
How can a leader get past the polite surface to the truth?
“There is a relational leadership skilling that they need to have. They need to have the ability to understand realities. The other relational skill is the ability to build trust. By building trust you are able to be in a position to have people know that you care for them.
There is a relational leadership skilling that leaders need to have. They need to understand realities, build trust and be able to facilitate conversations.
The third skill would be the ability to be able to facilitate conversations. When you can facilitate these conversations you might be able to then elicit the information you need, then you can reach agreements. So a lot of these are actually relational leadership skills that the leader needs to be aware of and accept that this is part and parcel of leading a team.”
Does a leader need to have all the answers in the midst of leading through change?
There is a view that to be an effective/successful leader, you need to have a plan in the midst of change and possess all the answers. The question might be whether, in today’s business climate, that perspective is feasible or desirable.
Does admitting to not having the answers be interpreted as a sign of weakness? Depending on the perspective that is held, it can greatly influence the way a leader listens and relates.
What happens when a leader tries to be the one with all the answers?
“Typically when a leader thinks that way, what follows next is ‘Let me come up with a plan’. As the plan takes shape, the way they listen and relate begins to change. They end up looking for friends or foes.
When a leader feels a need to have the answers, they can become defensive or combative, to start to mentally determine if people are for or against their plan.
The consequence of that is that it is actually a very negative impact on the amount of data they will obtain to make good decisions. It might be better for leaders to say ‘Let me discover the answers’.”
Has the role of the leader changed?
“I believe that the role of leaders has changed and that the wise leaders are the ones who know that they don't have all the answers. A lot of those answers rest with their team.”
Leaders today are more facilitators rather than problem solvers with the answers.
Leaders today are more facilitators rather than problem solvers with the answers. Leaders can do more to gather opinions/suggestions from team members instead of coming up with a quick solution themselves.
How do you discover answers with your team?
“When a leader enters a conversation, it is very easy to tell, to direct, to make assumptions and often not finding them being challenged. It is good for leaders to sit back and reflect on why they wanted to have that conversation with that person in the first place. Is it for them to tell others about their plan? Or is it for them to discover answers with those they share the plan with?
A relational leader can reinforce their ability to facilitate these conversations if they enter into 2 agreements with those they lead:
- I agree to listen to you until you feel that you have been understood.
- I agree not to give in, not to give up but to give my best.
Answers can be discovered when leaders hold themselves back and really listen to understand. This can be a powerful space of discovery.
These 2 agreements allow the leader to hold themselves back and really listen to understand. They will be able to enter a powerful space of discovery instead of walking out of the conversation physically or mentally.”
How can a leader manage the emotional aspects of a change transition?
When a change plan has been formulated, often the roll-out is centred around communicating the change. There is a negative emotion that the majority of people feel towards change. This is something which most organisations are not equipped or prepared to address.
There is significant fear and uncertainty that individuals will face. Not addressing the negative emotions intentionally with relational skill can really cause the change to face resistance that may eventually cause it to fail.
Caught up in an ocean of emotion
“In times of change, it can feel like we are being tossed about in an ocean of emotion. It will be good and wise for leaders to be aware that the kind of waters that they are charting - very often are emotional in nature because there’s a lot of anxiety from the ambiguity that comes with change. That is one aspect that sometimes is overlooked in the midst of trying to set out strategies, plans and processes.”
Change is very emotional in nature because of the anxiety from the ambiguity that comes with change. This is one aspect that is sometimes overlooked.
Leaders face challenges managing emotions at different levels
“Senior leadership teams and people managers, each of them has their own challenges in regard to managing emotions.
For C-suite, typically, for them is about managing emotions to build harmony and effectiveness within the leadership team. This is challenged by things like underdeveloped relational skills, their political skills, their orientation, and their lack of self-awareness. And that can potentially sabotage their plans and strategies.
Managing emotions for C-suite is typically to build harmony and effectiveness within the leadership team while people managers are the emotional buffer for the lower-level employees.
For people managers, it is their ability to be able to develop relationships, resolve conflicts, build and restore trust and reconcile differences as they are typically the buffers between the top management and the lower-level employees. They have to manage the emotions of those that they are rolling out the changes to. Having the ability and skill to do that is so crucial in times of change.”
How do we address the emotional elephant in the room?
“Communication is key and the foundation for that is safety. People will not communicate if they do not feel safe. So, setting a safe space and platform for that communication is very important. Hence, having a framework around having these kinds of conversations is important.
Communication is key and the foundation for that is safety. People will not communicate if they do not feel safe. Creating a safe place is the most important thing leaders can do for themselves.
The tool we use is a Courageous Conversation. This is a conversation framework that sets a safe space for difficult issues to be raised. The process involves:
- Bringing clarity to an issue that is very pressing for a person/team/organization.
- Discussing the consequences of that issue if it is not addressed.
- Understanding what are the responsibilities of the people involved who are the person who is feeling aggrieved at that point of time as well as the person who is listening (peer/leader).
- Being able to express what are the hopes and plans for the future ahead.
If at the end of the day, the leader is aware that the only way to get the team to move or to share information or to share how they feel is that they create a safe place, then that is the most important thing that they can do for themselves.”
ROHEI would like to acknowledge Chris Hogan, ROHEI's Principal Consultant and relational coach for global leaders for developing the Courageous Conversations and other foundational tools for developing relational leaders.