Work Culture Maintenance & Renewal

A company’s work culture is a living, evolving entity.  At least, it should be if you want to effectively meet the many challenges that your organization will no doubt face, regardless of your industry or business model or geography.

Change Intelligent leaders know they need to remain agile and continually adapt to stay relevant and prosper. As we learned from Jim Collins and his team in How the Might Fall: And Why Some Companies Don’t Give In, companies that succeed into the future – while their peers which are highly successful in the short-term fail – is the combination of:

• Constancy of purpose – focus on vision, mission, and values, and

• Flexibility of process – evolving technologies, tactics, and techniques

Indeed, when I revisited I/N Tek and I/N Kote after two decades, the vision, mission, and values statements we drafted in the early ‘90s were still posted on the wall, in the office areas, operations pulpits, and maintenance rooms, throughout the mill – constancy of purpose.  And, now there were employees who were children of the founding team members, upgraded technologies, and new business practices – flexibility of process.

As a leader, do you pay attention to your organization’s work culture?  Work culture can seem an amorphous concept, beyond our intentional control.  And yet, while not completely in our control, we can have a positive influence on our company culture, regardless of our position, tenure, or age.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, as a leader committed to helping your organization be nimble, agile, and Change Intelligent into the future:

• Does your organization have a vision, mission, or values statement?  If so, when is the last time you looked at it?  Mentioned it to your team?  Used it to guide decision-making and behaviors?

• Do you periodically take a pulse of your culture?  What is the level of engagement?  Teamwork up, down, and across the organization?  Commitment to strategic goals and objectives?

• In what areas can we do better – where does our lofty rhetoric not match the reality of what it’s like to work in our company on a day-to-day basis?  On what topics would we benefit from engaging in tough conversations to get ourselves back on track, and in line with our espoused beliefs?

Change Intelligent leaders look to the past to honor collective history, look to the future to progress toward new horizons, and foster collaborative cultures to empower people to partner on the journey together.

4 Questions about Change Intelligence (so you can apply it today)

To help illustrate how CQ is relevant to change leaders like yourself, I thought I’d share with you some of the questions I’ve been asked about how to apply the principles of the book to your team or organization:

  1. With all the leadership books out there, why was it important for you to write this book? From my first day on the job, standing in front of a room full of all-male steelworkers all decades older than me, I lived firsthand how challenging the role of a change leader can be.  It can be pretty scary to be the one up front and center  and intimidating to realize that even the best education and training doesn’t always prepare you to lead the change.  It’s been my passion for the last 25 years to equip change leaders to successfully navigate and direct change even in the most complex and challenging situations.  When you know your CQ, you know what to do next even if it’s a situation you’ve never faced before.
  2. What type of leader would benefit from reading Change Intelligence? I wrote the book for at any level charged with implementing change.  So, whether you’re on the front lines or in the C-Suite, Change Intelligence can be applied directly to your situation.   That being said, the demands and dynamics of leading change can be very different at the CEO versus project manager versus front line supervisor levels, and I offer advice to guide each based on my decades of experience coaching up, down and across organizations.
  3. What types of change is the book relevant for? What industries? The book is full of real-life case studies of transformations from mergers to new technology implementations to process improvements in industries spanning healthcare to high tech, refineries to retail, and steel to sales teams.  This is critical, because as leaders, we are constantly on point to manage multiple changes at once, and the pace is increasing, and the scope becoming more complex every day.  What matters is less the specifics of the change or industry dynamics, and more that by knowing your CQ you are equipped to lead change even when you’re facing a challenge you’ve never experienced before.
  4. What’s the book’s key message – the bottom line – and how can I apply it today? The big “ah-ha” of the book is that it is possible to lead successful and sustainable change – if it’s led effectively.  And it is possible to lead change effectively – not necessarily by starting with “overcoming resistance by others” or applying a new tool or process – but rather, by looking inside, and starting with yourself as a change leader.  What are your strengths?  What are your blind spots?  What are you natural tendencies as a change leader?  The 15-minute Change Intelligence self-assessment ($97 Value) that comes free with every book helps you answer these questions quickly, and the customized report each reader receives contains simple, practical, and applicable coaching for how to bolster your CQ right now, on the job today.  When you know your CQ, you experience an immediate increase in your confidence and competence in leading successful and sustainable change.

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

Be a Change Leader – Not “Just” a Change Manager!

Unfortunately, most change-based training programs focus exclusively on “Change Management” and exceedingly few on “Change Leadership.”  Change Management is the methods and tools of change: and these are critical to get the job done.  Yet, being savvy in deploying a Change Management Toolkit is best viewed as a baseline competency – what we need to be nominally effective at a very basic level. What we need to be optimally impactful is to hone our Change Leadership capacity.  As an example, this is the distinction between drafting a Stakeholder Engagement Plan, versus being able to genuinely engage stakeholders at all levels, from the C-suite to the front lines and across functions and geographies.

Think Globally, Act Locally, and Panic Internally

When I train leaders in Change Intelligence, we spend a lot of time diagnosing and developing our strengths, blind spots, and coaching opportunities to enhance our competence and confidence – and reduce our stress and frustration.

Quick example: an IT project manager I coached had the epiphany that emailing a quick reference guide for a new procedural change wasn’t quite enough to encourage adoption by end users (in other words, he provided a training tool that helped the hands, but completely missed the opportunity to show people why the change was necessary from a business sense as well as to engage with them to communicate why they should care). In his words, “maybe it wasn’t them resisting – maybe it was me not leading – who knew?!”

The bottom line message of the CQ/Change Intelligence System is that what so often looks like resistance in others, is a lack of effective leadership behaviors in ourselves. We as change agents are not giving people what they need to “get it” (engaging the brain – the “what and why” – the vision and strategy), to “want it” (inspiring the heart – the “who” – the hopes and fears), or to be able to “do it” (helping the hands – the “how” – the training and tools).

Here are some provocative questions to inspire both your own personal self-reflection as well as coaching conversations with clients on your Change Leadership journey:

  1. Am I aware of my own emotions in the face of change?  Do I deny or explore them?  What are they telling me and how can they lead me to the solutions I seek ?  How can allowing myself to feel what I feel help evolve me into an even more powerful Change Agent?
  2. Are the leaders/sponsors of your change initiatives “doing as they say others should do?”  Are they catalyzing or crushing commitment?  Is there an opportunity for you to have a courageous conversation with a leader you are working with?  If so, what would that be?  If so, what’s stopping you?  What would you do/say if you weren’t afraid?
  3. People in organizations today are hungering for a sense of humanity – what can you do in your change work to keep the human element at the forefront?  Would it be worthwhile to not just create a Stakeholder Plan, but also an Empathy Map delineating change impacts?  Is the human element in change being considered at each step and decision-point along the way?

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

Leadership Unplugged: Finding Solutions and Inspiration for Change Initiatives

A few years ago I put myself through a 360-degree feedback process in which I requested developmental input from peers, clients, staff, friends and family.  The strongest “needs improvement” area that emerged was “Work-Life Balance.”  Written-in comments indicated that people were not concerned that I neglected family or friends – but rather that I did not make time for myself – for reflection and rejuvenation.

That feedback really stunned me, especially because it was consistent across all respondents, including clients with whom I do not typically share too much about my personal life or habits.  I took it to heart, and engaged in a lot of soul-searching, resulting in changes to my personal and professional routines.  One of the most important changes was to schedule downtime – no devices, no distractions, no companions – and to step outside my normal environment to take a walk in nature (that is, if we weren’t in the midst of a polar vortex!).

I share this because it was during one of those scheduled downtimes that “CQ” was born.  As I was walking, I heard this phrase bubble up into my conscious mind: “you know your IQ, you’ve probably heard of EQ, but what’s your CQ?  Isn’t that what’s missing from our leadership toolkit that’s causing the high rate of failed change:  the lack of CQ, or Change Intelligence?!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

After inspiration, it’s just a matter of implementation!  (Well that, along with a couple of years of hard work and support from partners like everyone reading this newsletter, of course!)

We all “know” intellectually about the importance of solitary time-outs, but how many of us really hold them as “sacred space” not to be scheduled over when the inevitable urgent crisis of the moment arises?

These “Aha moments” – from the apple falling on Newton’s head while resting under a tree to a major breakthrough in the design for the Hubble Telescope that originated while the engineer was taking a shower – so  often occur while we are taking a “creative pause.”

Note that I didn’t go on my walk at fateful day when I conceived of CQ thinking to myself, “I’m going to invent a ground-breaking innovation right now while strolling around the lake” or anything to that effect.  The point is to deliberately disconnect even from one’s own “intentions” – to intentionally set aside the challenges and problems of the day and simply to let the mind wonder where it will.

As a psychologist (and a human!) I know this can be intimidating.  A mind left to wonder often travels to scary places – where worry and fears run rampant.  Perhaps that’s why we seem to crave constant external stimulation and fill every waking minute with activity, whether or not it’s productive, meaningful or fulfilling.  I fall prey to these dysfunctional dynamics just like everyone else.  I have to remind myself that I’m a human being not a human doing, and that sometimes the fastest way to “get there” (achieve my goals) is to just “be here” (now, in the present moment, in the calm and creative white space).

Paradoxically, it’s often in the white space of creative pauses that we achieve significant breakthroughs.  New possibilities present themselves for vexing problems.  We see opportunities where before we perceived only roadblocks.  I invite you to ask yourself where in your current change initiatives do you feel like you are “pushing the string,” frustrated that no matter what you try, you’re not getting traction.  Consider that perhaps by stepping back, stepping aside, and giving the problem and yourself some space, you might arrive at an insight to help you move forward.

The fact that you are reading this blog post and have derived value from the CQ System is living proof of the transformative impact of intentional disengagement! Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of a mental holiday.  Yours could be a walk in nature, a quiet drive, a longer shower, a mindful meditation, or simply staring out the window.  Reflect upon whether carving out space in your schedule to check-out might be a winning way for you too to perhaps counter-intuitively power-down to speed-up realization of professional and personal goals and dreams.  Not to mention a feel-good experience for your body and spirit – and a way to rekindle your passion.  It worked for me!

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know of any insights or “ahas” that emerge around your change projects as a result of unplugging and taking time away.

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

Crisis of Confidence? You Are Not Alone

“What is my goal for this coaching process? To have more self-confidence in myself as a leader. I know I’ve been successful in my career so far. But there are some huge challenges looming on the horizon. I’m not as sure of myself and my ability to lead at this next level.”

Guess who said this to me?  

Was it someone stepping up to their first supervisory position?  An early career professional embarking upon a daunting high-visibility assignment?  A novice project manager taking-on a global IT implementation?

No.

This is a quote from a very senior executive, responsible for a 400-person $100M global business unit.  In my work on an assignment for his firm, where I am coaching him and six of his peers, five of the six expressed similar coaching objectives – listing “building self-confidence” as one of their top three developmental priorities.

How is it possible that leaders at the helm of a major enterprise would be experiencing a crisis of confidence?

Back in the early 1980s psychological researchers coined the term “Impostor Syndrome” to refer to the fear of being “found out” for “faking it” – for not being as talented or competent as one appears.  Initially it was believed that women suffer from this syndrome more than men, but now we know that both genders are at risk, as many as 70% of the population may be affected, and that these misperceptions are particularly prevalent among high performers.

The Impostor Syndrome may be especially likely to strike when we are presented with a difficult new challenge.  Even though you’ve successfully met every new challenge in the past, is this next one too much?  Will it all come crashing down?  Will your wings burn flying too close to the sun?

Moreover, when encountering new opportunities, do you shy away from stepping forward to grab them?  Do you tell yourself you’re not quite ready yet, or that someone else could do the job better?  Do you avoid climbing the professional ladder, or are surprised when career opportunities are offered to you?  Do you neglect positive self-advocacy because you don’t want to appear to be bragging, arrogant, overly ambitious?

If you endure any of these examples of negative self-talk, you may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome:

  • One day they’ll find out I’m not as great as they think I am.
  • My boss just put me up for a promotion.  I don’t know if I’m ready – I still have so much to learn – the new position seems like three steps beyond me.
  • I got nominated for “team leader of the year”?  I’ve got them fooled!
  • Wow, I can’t believe I’m part of this organization.  They are all so much smarter than me.
  • I know that I’ve gotten the highest performance rating every year for the last five years, but this new assignment is just beyond me.  I know I’ll have to put in 80 hour weeks and work twice as hard as everyone else just to get a “meets requirements” evaluation.
  • When I look back at my major career accomplishments, luck played such a big part.

Indeed, it’s often in times of change that the Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.  And given that we’re all bombarded with constant change, which is by definition ambiguous and uncertain – and at times unwanted – and increasing in scope, pace, and complexity – it probably should not come as a surprise that my executive coaching clients – and perhaps many folks we all work with, and even some readers of this newsletter – might be feeling stressed and anxious about not being up to the task.

If you suffer from Impostor Syndrome – at least in some situations – and if you have the nagging fear that it’s holding you back from realizing all you were meant to contribute – here are some strategies to try out:

As with developing Change Intelligence, the first step is awareness – become aware of this tendency, acknowledge that at times it plagues you, and accept that it’s normal to sometimes feel insecure.

Next, recognize “your own b.s.” for what it is – a belief system – that you created and that you can change.  The Impostor Syndrome results from flawed thinking, and by shining a light on your own misapprehensions you can fix your flaws.  Reflect, and reframe.

Make a list of your successes and your talents.  Keep score.  Now, reconcile this objective, factual database with the subjective, fraudulent fears you have invented.  Acknowledge the part you actively, intentionally played in your accomplishments – not luck or chance.  Celebrate!

On the flipside, we all have ways we can improve professionally and personally.  If there is a skill you would benefit from building, or a behavior it would be behoove you to change, make a plan to do so.  Setting and achieving goals boosts self-confidence and is more evidence of your self-efficacy.

Remember that your behavior and your results are not who you are as a person.  We all stumble and we all fall.  The only failure is the failure to try, and the failure to pick ourselves up when we misstep.  We’re all only human, and high achievers tend to be harder on themselves than anyone else around them.

Think “complement” not “compare.”  We don’t have to look far to find someone who’s better than us at something.  And I assert we also don’t have to look far to recognize that there are things we are better at than other people are.  Rather than seeing such differences as good/bad or better/worse, perhaps it is healthier to consider ways we complement each other’s gifts, making us all more effective together.  Moreover, adding empathy to the mix is an even more powerful formula – remember that lots of our coworkers feel like “shams” at times too!

Get into the ring.  Staying safe is boring.  You have too much potential to waste playing small.  Don’t die with your song unsung.  You (and only you) know what song I’m talking about!

Take a trip to the mall.  There was a hilarious scene from the movie Soap Dish, in which Sandy Field played an aging soap opera diva and Whoopie Goldberg her supportive manager.  When Sandy was feeling down because an attractive new actress was hired on the show, Whoopie took her to a mall in New Jersey.  Sandy started descending from the top of a huge, open escalator in the middle of the mall.  At the bottom of the escalator Whoopie, pretending not to know Sandy personally, shouted, “OMG – is it really YOU?!”  After which throngs of adoring fans accosted Sandy for autographs and showered her with an outpouring of affection.  Who’s your Whoopie, the president of your fan club?!  I’ll bet you have many admirers who would welcome the opportunity to remind you how great you are.  We’re so busy that we so often forget to give the people who matter most to us an encouraging word:  I often say that positive feedback is the most impactful and most under-utilized leadership behavior in our workplaces today. Don’t be stingy – give someone the gift of contributing to you – ask a buddy for a “trip to the mall”!

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

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. 

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.

CQ + EQ: A Potent Combination for Leaders (and what it means for you)

cq-eq

Assuming you’re familiar with CQ, let’s take a step back and look at EQ.  When introducing the concept to clients for the first time, I often get a response such as, “we base our decisions on logic and facts – we don’t bring our emotions to work.”  Or, as one of my more colorful clients, a manufacturing executive explained, “we don’t do that touchy-feely crap!”

But, we’ve all experienced how our preferences don’t always determine our reality – right? After all, anyone who’s even somewhat familiar with brain science knows that “leaving our emotions at the workplace door” is simply not possible:  When we experience a sensation (anything from our sense organs – a sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) it first registers in our reptilian brain, then passes to our limbic system (the seat of the emotions), and then travels to our cerebral cortex (our thinking brain).  

As much as we might wish it were otherwise, we each bring our whole person to work with us everyday – our bodies and brains, our thoughts and our emotions.  And, moreover, we decide how we feel about something first, before we get a chance to process what we think about it!

Yet, the viewpoint expressed by the manufacturing executive is a very common one – and illustrative of the fact that even the most intelligent leaders are misinformed about what EQ really is.  As Daniel Goleman, a leader in Emotional Intelligence, teaches us, EQ is not about being “touchy-feely” – it’s about being aware of your feelings, and those of others; EQ is not about being nice all the time – it’s about being honest; and EQ is not about being emotional – it’s about being smart with your emotions.   

Just looking at the impact of EQ on overall career success, consider the following:

  • EQ alone explains 58% of a leader’s job performance
  • 90% of top performers are high in EQ while just 20% of low performers are high in EQ
  • EQ is linked to job performance at every level in every industry

And moreover, to get a taste of the profound impact EQ can have on organizational success, when plant supervisors were trained in EQ:

  • Lost time accidents were reduced by 50%
  • Formal grievances went from 15 per year to 3
  • Productivity goals were exceeded by $250,000

You know from being a part of the CQ community that developing Change Intelligence empowers leaders to be more competent and competent in managing change, teams to be more effective in jointly facilitating change, and organizations (as a whole) to more smoothly bring to life successful and sustainable change.  But, what about the power of CQ and EQ when used together?  This is a question I’m often asked, both from the stage in delivering keynotes and also in working with executives and teams. I believe it’s an important one to explore – since it can accelerate your ability to make an impact and to successfully lead change.

Combining CQ and EQ is a winning approach to equip ourselves and other leaders to meet the increasingly demanding challenges we’re experiencing in today’s workplace.  I’ve learned this first hand using a joint approach over the last year at several client organizations.

In addition, I recently taught a guest lecture in the “Leadership Principles and Practices” class at Northwestern University.  Since he required reading for the class is both Change Intelligence as well as Goleman’s Primal Leadership, I addressed this question in depth to the graduate students in the class:

How can building our EQ in addition to CQ help us lead change?

Inspire the Heart:  High CQ leaders know that we need to connect, communicate, and collaborate with people to design and implement change that sticks.  High EQ leaders’ heightened relationship management skills ensure they are better able to do so.

Engage the Brain:  High CQ leaders know that we need to make the business case for the change, sharing visions for the future and strategies that paint a picture of how to achieve transformational goals.  High EQ leaders are more sensitive in assessing people’s “current state” in terms of their emotional reactions when confronted with a major change, and are more savvy in being able to craft customized messages that paint a more effective line-of-sight from present to future for a wide variety of stakeholders.

Help the Hands:  High CQ leaders know that we need to motivate movement to make changes real in the field, to translate lofty strategies to specific tactics people can execute, and provide them the training and tools to do so.  High EQ leaders have honed their radar to be in tuned with barriers that are standing in people’s way to altering their behavior and adopting new ways of working, such as fears of loss of skills, status, or security.

Moving to the team level, groups with members high in EQ, which also know their individual Change Leader styles as well as their Team CQ Profile, are better equipped to proactively and openly leverage their strengths, identify and shore-up their blind spots, and give/receive genuine feedback to facilitate true partnerships in leading the change process together.

Leaders with high EQ are more effective at engaging employees, and companies with engaged cultures outperform their counterparts on a wide variety of metrics from profitability to quality to customer satisfaction to turnover.  Workplaces with leaders who make a commitment to build CQ and EQ at all levels have a much higher probability of overcoming the dismal 70% failure rate of major change initiatives, and instead, execute transformations that stick – and generate a lasting return on investment.