Positive Change Leadership

In my last post, we looked at Van Olffen’s useful organization development book “Engage”. Let’s look at change leadership and reflect on how we might do better.
Change Leadership means helping yourself and others on the journey to a new way of thinking, doing, and being. True change leadership often means transformational leadership in our VUCA-world. (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). We must bring our “whole selves” to work to navigate the complexity, and we must change together while we experiment in real-time and work with the collective intelligence and engage everyone’s energy, ownership, and actions. To inspire, we must be authentic and keep our egos in check.

Transformational leadership means (Burns 1978, Bass, 1985):

  • Inspiring others to follow via your willingness to take personal risks for your challenging vision.
  • Giving your followers confidence and convey the goal in precise terms.
  • Stimulating followers to find creative ideas – engage in safe discussions.
  • Being aware of individual differences – and customize how you help.

Van Olffen provides a list of helpful leadership behaviors during change and development:

  • Communicating a clear vision and perspective
  • Explaining the change
  • Honesty about possible consequences
  • Stimulating shared understanding of the change (goal and path)
  • Being true to your word -setting the right example
  • Being true to yourself
  • Involving employees in the implementation/participation
  • Visibly acknowledging emotional needs and concerns
  • Visibly showing personal commitment to the change
  • Offering specific support

I’d like to add two skills of positive change leadership, based on my experience and various research:

  • Being aware of the current culture.
  • Develop/influencing the culture with positive change leadership.

How positive is the current culture?

Current culture can hold organizations back and cause future failures. Don’t ignore it… work with culture so it doesn’t work against your change.

What is and why a positive culture? It is productive. It affects the business bottom line, as research shows. Professor Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan has been researching positive organizations for years. He found that a positive climate, positive relationships, communication, and positive meaning lead to “positive deviance” or high performance.

All organizations exist to prevent deviance. Organizations aim for stability and end up in the middle. Not bad, but neither extraordinary. The natural focus is on what’s wrong and to fix that.  But in a positive culture, the focus is on what is working well and what people could do even better. A positive culture creates an “upward spiral” so it’s easier to achieve what is called Positive Deviance, or in other words, high performance.

Let’s also bust the myths about “positive”: it is not soft and fake-happy.
Positive cultures set challenging boundaries and targets to achieve Positive Deviance! People do not get away with slacking.
A fake smile is not part of a positive culture, either. People are invited to be themselves but to focus on positive possibilities.
Negative feedback is part of the game but delivered in a constructive way.

Research suggests that a toxic culture decreases productivity with 40% (Sutton at Stanford), incivility as part of culture damages productivity with $14,000 per employee per year (Porath & Pearson), while an effective culture increases productivity with 20% (Kotter & Heskett), and a positive culture boosts results (Cameron) – sometimes with 30%

Change is a journey. You depart from the current culture – either toxic, neutral, or positive. Acknowledge the great things from the current culture and take them with you. Use positive change leadership to develop and improve the culture while traveling to your destination.

Research shows that positive cultures have four kinds of “jewels” – stimulated by positive leadership:
1 Positive Awareness
2 Connection and collaboration
3 Shared purpose and meaning
4 Learning and autonomy
As a positive change leader, you might want to check this with the reflection questions below.

Positive Awareness:

Knowing your and others’ strengths
Fostering an optimistic outlook
Seeing positive possibilities and focusing our attention on what goes well, what is uplifting, what is the right thing to do
Aiming for positive deviance: we seek extraordinary outcomes beyond “just okay.”

What is going well? 
What would positive deviance look like for my team?

Connection and collaboration:

Being interested in and knowing colleagues
Valuing their contributions and enhancing their strengths
Asking more questions instead of assuming or judging
Offering help to co-workers
Bringing yourself to work – daring to be vulnerable, transparent, open

How do you treat people? As equals or as means to your end?
How can you ask more (positive) questions? 
Am I holding myself to the same standards as I am demanding of others?

Shared purpose and meaning:

Develop a shared, inspiring purpose and why we are doing our work
Experience positive meaning: we contribute to the lives of our customers, co-workers, and community

Why do I go to work? Why here?
What’s my contribution to the team and how does that align with my values and strengths?
Team: why do we work here?

Learning and autonomy:

Trusting others as professionals
Seeing the potential of others
Being tolerant of mistakes
Inspiring each other to learn and try more
Taking responsibility – I am co-creating this situation

Can I admit that “I don’t know”? Is our culture okay with the discomfort of not-knowing?
What’s the potential of others that they can develop?
When is the last time I learned something new and shared it at work?

I hope that the personal reflection questions trigger some insights. That’s okay! We are not perfect, we are making progress. Keep learning!

I’m one of the Global Gurus on Organizational Culture for 2021. If you like my articles, please vote for me at: https://globalgurus.org/organizational-culture/
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Thank you so much!

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