The Law of the Lid, often referred to as John Maxwell’s First Law of Leadership, highlights the importance of leadership in realising an organisation’s potential.
“Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential.”
And the role of a leader becomes even more significant amidst the rapid pace of change in today’s business climate. In times of uncertainty, staff look to their leaders for direction.
Your ability to lead change will determine the success of the transformation.
On top of having clear strategic vision and technical competencies, there are four key traits we have identified that will enable leaders to inspire teams to give their best in times of change. These traits will make the difference in rallying support towards your change initiative.
1. Lead by example
In times of organisational change, teams take their cues from leaders on how they should behave. A leader’s actions speak volumes to the team.
One trait of key importance in leading by example is having consistency between words and actions.
If the leaders are seen to act in a manner consistent with what they say, their team will be more inclined to believe that the leader's words are an accurate reflection of the organisations’ priorities and values.
Another aspect of consistency is the alignment between a leaders’ personal values and mission with the organisation’s. It is far more natural to achieve consistency when there is a natural alignment of the personal and professional.
As they model the way for others in the organisation, leaders’ need to be true to themselves. If there is no alignment, leaders will be trying to behave in a way that is not who they are. This lack of consistency will be apparent and will weigh down trust levels.
Walking the talk
No one is exempted from walking the talk. The leaders of the All-Blacks rugby team paint a compelling example. They call it “sweeping the sheds.” “Their leaders do the menial work, cleaning and tidying the locker rooms—and along the way vividly model the team’s ethic of togetherness and teamwork,” Daniel Coyle says in The Culture Code.
2. Be honest about your fallibility
Embracing the new role of the leader
In today’s rapidly shifting climate, it is no longer the job of the leader to have all the answers. The leader's role has shifted to that of a facilitator who empowers others to collectively create solutions. It’s about bringing out the best in everyone in the team.
Spotlight your fallibility early on
Daniel Coyle, in The Culture Code, says “In any interaction, we have a natural tendency to try to hide our weaknesses and appear competent. If you want to create safety, this is exactly the wrong move. Instead, you should open up, show you make mistakes, and invite input with simple phrases like ‘This is just my two cents.’ ‘Of course, I could be wrong here.’ ‘What am I missing?’ ‘What do you think?’.
3. Actively invite input
Getting input is harder in times of uncertainty; lack of clarity makes people unsure of what they are doing, and thus hesitant to make a contribution for fear of making mistakes.
Ask genuine questions
Leaders can inspire people when they are able to ask genuine questions and be attentive to the responses given. People then appreciate that their thoughts are genuinely valued.
“To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input….It’s really hard for people to raise their hand and say, ‘I have something tentative to say.’ And it’s equally hard for people not to answer a genuine question from a leader who asks for their opinion or their help,” Daniel Coyle says.
Giving license for participation
A leader’s honesty and candor about not having all the answers creates a safe environment for others to pitch in toward a solution.
It takes humility for a leader to open up and ask for input from his staff, but it also gives license for them to participate. It invites the listener to ask: “How can I help?”
Be open to all sources of feedback
Inspired people can have contributions that can make an impact, regardless of their specific station in the company.
“Suppose you are hired at Pixar, whether it’s as a director or as a barista in the company café. On your first day, you and a small group of fellow newbies are ushered into the theatre where screenings are held. You are asked to sit in the fifth row—because that’s where the directors sit. Then you hear the following words: Whatever you were before, you are a filmmaker now. We need you to help us make our films better.”
“‘It’s incredibly powerful,’ said Mike Sundy, who works in data management. “You feel changed.” Samantha Wilson, who was originally hired by Pixar as a barista for the company café, is now a story manager for the studio, having worked on Inside Out, Up, and Cars 2.”
4. Embrace and communicate truth
It takes courage to speak the truth for teams to navigate change together. It is the tough job of a leader to sift through multiple realities—each team members’ perspectives—and determine what is really happening.
Talk about mistakes
In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle relays the experience of Seal Team Six Command Master Chief Dave Cooper with the After-Action Review, a truth-telling session.
“AARs happen immediately after each mission and consist of a short meeting in which the team gathers to discuss and replay key decisions. The goal is to create a flat landscape without rank, where people can figure out what really happened and talk about mistakes—especially their own.”
“It’s got to be safe to talk,” Cooper says. “Rank switched off, humility switched on. You’re looking for that moment where people can say, ‘I screwed that up.’ In fact, I’d say those might be the most important four words any leader can say: I screwed that up.”
Being honest about the mistakes that were made allows the team to see how what they do impacts others and can create the team understanding that can help every member perform to their full potential.
Intentionally seek out differing perspectives
Leaders can achieve a better appreciation of the issues when they avoid surrounding themselves with people with viewpoints consistent with theirs.
John Kerry, former US Secretary of State, is deliberate in looking for people who see things differently. “I look for people who will say no to me. I look for people who have their own mind,” he says in an interview with the Harvard Business Review. “I really do look for people who know a lot about one thing or another or about what we’re trying to get done. And I want people who are strong-minded, people who will not just say what I want to hear or they think I want to hear.”
Be willing to embrace the messenger of bad news
People observe how a leader responds to unfavourable news. When a leader can not only tolerate bad news but also embrace the deliverer of this potentially unwelcome news, it signals to others that it is safe for people to give information without fear of being reprimanded. Ensures that leaders will also get the timely intel they need.
Daniel Coyle shares: “Embrace the Messenger: One of the most vital moments for creating safety is when a group shares bad news or gives tough feedback. In these moments, it’s important not simply to tolerate the difficult news but to embrace it. You know the phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’? Edmondson says. In fact, it’s not enough to not shoot them. You have to hug the messenger and let them know how much you need that feedback. That way you can be sure that they feel safe enough to tell you the truth next time.”
When leaders are able to consistently demonstrate the above traits, they create a culture of openness and trust that becomes the foundation for a truly high-performance work environment. What this does is create a safe environment to share ideas, information, and perspectives. And this is exactly that kind of environment that inspires people to participate fully in organisational transformation and change initiatives.