Things need to change! You’ve known this for some time now. Others on your team understand this as well, yet, for various reasons, no one is acting. You are officially mired in mediocrity.
Perhaps people feel that implementing a change will be too difficult, or too risky. Or, maybe, they feel they don’t have the skill to lead a successful change effort.
So, now the hard question…what are you going to do about it?
In previous articles on the VUCA Proof© Leader, we determined that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective in our VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world, leaders must overcome their learned tendency to display heroic leadership, and instead focus on being more passionate, bold, and mindful. Then, once you’ve made the effort to get Aligned, it’s time to get to work by becoming Activated.
An Activated leader leverages their passion to boldly challenge a team (or organization) to change for the better. It’s their rare combination of energy and courage that ignites others and becomes a powerful force for transformation. Specifically, there are three activities that an activated leader takes to create the conditions for change to occur.
Activated leadership starts with planning for change within the context of your environment. Assess the key stakeholders. Who are your allies? Who is likely to be in opposition? What are the hidden assumptions, values, and mental models that are contributing to being for or against your change initiative? I use Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis as my preferred tool to help frame these difficult-to-identify dynamisms.
Now, make no mistake, if it’s a big-enough change, this will be a struggle! Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets. In any change, there will be winners and losers. Thus, you need to anticipate and prepare for resistance. In the military, we called this “prepping the battlefield.” We never wanted to engage in conflict on other’s terms. Instead, we did things like emplacing shaping obstacles, causing opposition forces to change direction to where we held the advantage. Translation…understand who has the most to lose with your proposed change, and try to predict their next steps. What can you do to mitigate opposition? Perhaps you need to have (meetings before the meeting) to ensure public support from your allies. Or, maybe you need prepare concessions that will make losses resulting from change more tolerable to others. “Wargame” how things could play out, and prepare accordingly.
Now, it’s time to act! An Activated leader will next engage in the activity of pot-stirring. Like a stew that’s become cold and stale, you need to get things moving and heat it up if it’s to become appetizing again. Thus, this is when you “say what needs to be said.” Speak from your heart and authentically articulate what change is needed. It may be uncomfortable, as people try to escape from, avoid, or delay the hard conversation. Hold strong to your beliefs and continue to mix it up. Ask questions of the group like, “What risks do you see in continuing along the same path?” Or, make a provocative interpretation like, “It amazes me that we all just bury our heads in the sand when we see these same mediocre results…is that because we don’t care anymore?” People may sigh at your “ridiculous” statement. Good. The idea is to get people talking when they prefer not to. Keep on stirring until, as Dr. Robert Marshek might explain, all topics, behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that are considered unacceptable or questionable for discussion “move from under the table, to on the table” for discussion.
While you may need to be a lightning rod for a moment to help generate healthy debate, I offer you never do it alone, and there will come a point where you should transition to the final Activated leadership activity, which is bridge-building. This is when you focus the group by creating unity of vision and direction. Rather than concentrating on the differences, pay attention to their commonalities and shared values. A year from now, what is a better outcome that we’d all value? What should we be doing to make this vision a reality? Who needs to be included to bring diverse perspectives on how we should get there? What are the small baby steps we can agree on that will enable clear progress? These are example questions that an activated leader might use to facilitate powerful discussion. The path forward does not need to come from you directly, in fact, it’s better if it emerges from the group. While the heroic leader “tells then sells” their vision, the VUCA Proof© leader consults, delegates, and builds consensus. This ensures the greatest amount of team buy-in, which is imperative to leading change in a VUCA environment.
Preparing, Pot-Stirring, and Bridge-Building are the activities that ensure we are practicing Activated Leadership. In my final VUCA Proof© Leadership article, I will address how we can stay Attuned to ensure change efforts progress as planned, which is essential to moving away from a heroic leadership style, and towards a more effective VUCA Proof© style.
 Marshak, R. J. (2006). Covert processes at work: managing the five hidden dimensions of organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.