Empathy: How it Can Help You Become a Better Change Leader

“I thought I came here today to learn more about myself, in order to help me do my job to manage change. What I really learned was empathy for other people, which will help me partner with others to lead change.”

This revelation was shared by a Change Intelligence (CQ) workshop participant, and one that I’ve heard many times from many others.  The definition of CQ is the awareness of one’s change leader style, and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective across people and situations.  As a person builds awareness of their own style, they naturally become aware of other styles of leading change.  The Heart-oriented change leader gets exposed to Head-oriented change leaders, increasing their awareness of the need to make progress toward the goal while taking care of the people. Head-oriented change leaders get exposed to Hands-oriented change leaders, increasing awareness of process and tactics in addition to vision and strategy.

At times, due to how we are hard-wired as humans, “different” can be perceived as “bad” – in the same way that “change” can be perceived as “threat” when we first encounter it – no matter how pro-diversity or change-friendly we might be deep down inside.  What I’ve often observed, in myself and others, is that once we become aware of other styles, we can initially judge them negatively.  For example, I am a high-Heart-and-Head change leader – the Champion change leader style.  Early in my career, I looked down on high-Hands Executors, criticizing them as “plodding” and “pessimistic.”

However, over time, particularly once I realized that some of my early change projects were veering off-track because of a lack of focus on the details, I began to see the value of efficient planning.  What I once perceived as plodding I began to appreciate as keeping a firm handle on activities, deliverables, issues and risks, so nothing got dropped out.  What I once perceived as pessimistic I began to appreciate as a realistic appraisal of resource requirements and timing targets.

I’ve seen such a realization occur time and again in the change leaders I coach – no matter their industry, functional expertise, or hierarchical level.  I refer to this as the “judging to valuing ladder” as we transition from being an “aware” to an “evolved” change leader:

What happens when people step up the ladder is that they begin to empathize with a much wider array of people than they may have in the past.  They begin to understand the journeys others have been on, and appreciate that they are honestly trying to do the best they can capitalizing on their strengths.  That is a huge mental shift, because so often, to the “unenlightened change leader,” the strengths of other styles can seem very frustrating and even detrimental – like my initial judgment of planning as plodding and realism as pessimism.

When we are able to “get out of our heads” (or “hearts” or “hands” or whatever our dominant style may be), magic happens.  As the old saying goes, “it’s amazing how when we change, others change too.”  When we look at people with new eyes – with respect and gratitude – it’s a palpable gift to them.  We “show up” very differently to them as well.  At the top of the judging to valuing ladder, the door to new possibilities for partnership opens.

To put these insights into practice right now, I invite you to ask yourself:

Is there someone you are working with who you find frustrating? Looking at them through the lens of empathy, could they be honestly trying to do the right thing, but just in a very different way than you would?  Might they possibly be leveraging strengths that they genuinely believe will lead to successful outcomes, but those strengths may not be ones you value?

Is there someone you are working with who you are trying to influence in a positive direction, but not getting traction?  Consider that perhaps you have been communicating with them in a way that works for you, but not in a way that they can truly “hear.”  For example, as a high-Heart-and-Head Champion change leader, I tend to get excited by the “what” and “who” of change – that is, the exciting new vision and engaging with people to get there with urgency.  To connect with high-Hand Executer change leaders, I need to incorporate “how” messages.  If I don’t, then they will be stuck ruminating about “how are we going to make this work,” and often view me as a “cheerleader” not a “champion,” because I have not helped them see the path from current to future state, which is what they need to know to connect with my message.

Is there a change initiative you are leading in which you are stuck and not achieving the results you aspire to?  Study the strengths of change leader styles that are not your own, ones that are less typical or even uncomfortable for you.  Can you try out one or more of these strengths, flexing some new muscles in areas you have traditionally been weak, or under-valued?  Is there a colleague you can reach-out to who is strong in critical aspects of the change process that you are not as skilled at, or just do not enjoy?

Daniel Goleman, who popularized “Emotional Intelligence” or “EQ” (which encourages us to hone our capacity to understand and manage our own emotions) has in more recent times developed the concept of “Social Intelligence,” to empower us to forge effective relationships with others.  In his words, “self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

The first step in building Change Intelligence, or CQ, is in fact to look within, and become aware of own change leader style.  However, the true gold is when we can then build on this understanding to empathize with others, and adapt our style accordingly.  Thinking about all the tumult in our workplaces and our world, it can seem “scary out there.”  So many people are living and working in fear.  By developing and displaying empathy, we can not only help others and ourselves rise above that fear, but we also vastly increase the probability of successful partnerships and sustainable change.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

What’s YOUR Style of Leading Change?

WHAT’S YOUR STYLE OF LEADING CHANGE?

Knowing your CQ (Change Intelligence) style can make all the difference for your ability to influence others and overcome resistance to change!

Just as each of us communicates, collaborates and handles conflict in our own unique ways, so do we each have our own style of leading change.  And, just as we are much more effective in working with others when we understand ourselves and how we are similar and different than others – and can adjust accordingly – so we are much more confident and competent in influencing and partnering with others towards challenging goals when we understand the various change leader styles.

Our Change Leader style is comprised of our tendencies to lead with our Heart versus our Head versus our Hands. Powerful Change Leaders “start with the heart,” “engage the brain,” and “help the hands” move in positive new directions.  Of course, none of us leads only, all the time, in every instance with the Head or Heart or Hands.  We are each a blend of all three.  It is this unique combination that represents our Change Leader Style.

There are seven possible styles, depending on how strong you are on heart, head and hands.

  • If you’re a Coach, you’re all about Heart.  You love engaging your colleagues whenever you get a chance, and you find great reward in supporting people around you as you all move through a change process.
  • If you’re a Visionary, you are the one who’s always looking forward to an inspiring future.  Thanks to your Head focus, you have a gift for seeing opportunity and planning for new situations, and you tend to get excited about what lies on the other side of a change.
  • If you’re an Executer, you focus primarily on the Hands.  You like to get things done, and people know they can rely on you to not just talk but take action.  Often your execution is backed up by comprehensive, step-by-step plans.
  • If you’re a Champion, you use a combined strength in Head and Heart to get people pumped about a change.  Like a Visionary, you see abundant possibilities for the future and, adding the people skills of a Coach to the mix, you’re able to energize and excite your colleagues as you all work to bring about change.
  • If you’re a Driver, you’re strong on both Head and Hands.  You see an enticing vision before you, and you use your executional abilities to drive toward that vision, laying out clear strategies and tactics along the way.
  • If you’re a Facilitator, you focus on specific people and specific activities you need to support on a day-to-day basis to lead the change, thanks to your strong Heart and Hands capabilities.  You know the tasks that need to be accomplished to make measurable progress, and you succeed in motivating others to work together on those tasks.
  • If you’re an Adapter, you’re about even on Head, Heart, and Hands.   You can employ all three approaches as necessary, and you’re generally flexible, politically savvy, and willing to collaborate with others.

The relationship between the seven styles can be represented as a triangle, which, incidentally, is also the Greek symbol for change:

We enhance our influence and impact when we learn how to shift our leadership strategy to more meaningfully connect with people of different styles.  We all know the Golden Rule, “do onto others as YOU want to be done unto.”  To optimally partner with others through change, follow the Platinum Rule, “do onto others at THEY want to be done unto.”

Depending on the circumstances, sometimes we lead in one way and sometimes in another.  No style is better or worse, right or wrong.  However, at any given time one style may be more effective in leading change.  Awareness of our style can help us adapt to different people and situations and ultimately take action to become more powerful change leaders.

By building Change Intelligence, Change Leaders are able to overcome what looks like resistance, but is really either confusion over the goal (no “Head”), lack of connection to the goal (no “Heart”), or lack of tactics and training to partner together to work toward the goal (no “Hands”).  That’s CQ!

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

A FREE Resource for You to Prepare for Upcoming Change Challenges

Want to ADAPT?

To help focus and ground your reflection, I’d like to offer you a resource that I use with my clients to help develop their Change Intelligence – the ADAPT tool.  Click here To access the free ADAPT tool and download the PDF.

As I share with my clients, to cope with demanding challenges spanning from mergers to reorganizations to new technologies, we don’t need to change ourselves, any more than we can “force” change on those we seek to partner with towards positive new directions.  Instead, the opportunity is to ADAPT our behaviors to be more effective across a wider variety of situations, thereby expanding our influence and increasing our impact.

The ADAPT tool is a targeted and simple resource to encourage intentional reflection about the one aspect of our workplaces and our worlds we can genuinely control – ourselves!  How liberating is that?!

Please do reach out and let me know what insights the tool provided you, and how you are planning on applying your learnings on-the-job.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Does Leading Change Differ Across Cultures?

Although change is a universal challenge that we face as leaders, do styles of leading change show up differently across cultures?  What have we learned about leading change around the world – and what does it mean for you?

When I started researching Change Leadership Styles from around the world as part of developing the Change Intelligence/CQ Assessment, I was curious to see what differences would emerge. After consulting on global transformations and coaching leaders from around the world for decades, I had expected to find significant differences in styles of leading change across the globe.  What did I find when analyzing the CQ Assessment results and responses from Change Leaders spanning North America, South/Central America, Europe, India, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa?

NO significant differences!

Change Leaders from around the world – whether they are in New York or New Delhi or Newcastle – are equally likely to collaborate (lead change by focusing on the “Heart”) or strategize (focusing on the “Head”) or plan (the “Hands”) as their dominant tendency in a change process.

How can this be, especially with boots-on-the-ground insight into what appears to be substantial regional, cultural, and ethnic differences?

My hypothesis – which needs to be tested empirically – is that while the prevalence of each Change Leader Style may be similar around the world, how they are enacted will vary based on cultural context.  That is, while Change Leaders around the world may focus to a similar degree on people, purpose, and process, what that translates into specific behaviors may vary widely based on cultural norms and accepted business practices.

For example, consider these two examples of Change Leaders and their personal insights and actions based on CQ Assessment results with varying cultural expectations:

  • A Project Manager in Singapore scores as a very “high Hands” Change Leader.  She realizes that she often struggles “influencing up,” resulting in less-than-ideal sponsorship of her challenging IT implementations.  However, in her words, initiating “skip level” meetings and causing senior leaders to “lose face” are frowned upon in Asian contexts.  Recognizing she needs to adapt her leadership style to more impactfully influence executives, she realizes she would benefit from flexing some “Head” muscle.  She creates a presentation about project status focusing on the business case for devoting more resources to the initiative, and shares that with her Program Manager.  This sets the Program Manager up to be able to deliver tough messages to the senior team in a straightforward and respectful manner, enabling the executives to have the data they need delivered in a culturally-appropriate way by a peer leader.
  • A very “high Head” Plant Manager from a US manufacturing firm is assigned to start-up a facility in Sweden.  After meeting with the mostly Swedish management team he will be working with for several years, he realizes that the traditional top-down approach he had been used in the American-based plants he had led would not work in the Swedish business culture, which has a strong history of workplace democracy and employee empowerment.  Therefore, he adopts a more “Heart plus Hands” facilitative style, creating teams to make critical decisions about the technical and social system plant design.  When he transfers back the US after a highly successful commissioning process to assume a Regional Vice President of Operations role, he introduces team-based engagement processes, in a way that synced with the performance-based culture and compensation system within that business unit.

How does this apply to your change initiatives within your team and organization? What are the implications for  any leader charged with the opportunity to spearhead new directions globally?  Change Intelligence is theawareness of one’s Change Leader Style, and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective leading change across a variety of people and situations.  Adding awareness of regional, ethnic and cultural variations – in addition to organizational, functional, and personality differences – enables leaders to be even more savvy in flexing their behaviors to engage for change with greater confidence and competence, and less stress and frustration.

Questions to ask yourself might include:

  • As you develop your CQ and better understand your style, what cultural, regional or ethnic variations do you need to consider as you put together your strategic change plan?
  • How do the strengths of your style mesh well in your current cultural context?  How could you deploy these in new and even more winning ways?
  • In what ways might you be driving change in a way that’s causing you personally – your behaviors – to be a barrier in the change process?  What shifts might you benefit from making in your leadership style to enable you to powerfully partner with others who may hold different norms and expectations of how the change process should be managed?

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here.