Lead change without causing resentment

I attended the recent graduation of a leadership training program that focused on supervisor and manager effectiveness in the world today. The reports that were given highlighted the major benefits received from the training over the previous two months. The mix in the group included seasoned leaders as well as new supervisors in the role for the first time. The theme of the reports that were given revolved around getting people to change.

The exciting thing to hear was how old habits could be changed. More than one person talked about giving almost “in your face” directives to their people as a way of getting things done. Then they were surprised when they walked away and came back later to find that the directive was not followed. Several new approaches came out:

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders: There is a saying that people support a world they help create. When trying to get people to buy in to a new process, system, or methodology, giving them the order to just do it is not always easily received. Instead, try asking them questions about the current process, what they think of the proposed change, and what their ideas for implementation might be.

I once interviewed a CEO who told me that the biggest impact his current leadership team could make would be to become professional salespeople. It was an interesting comment. Here is what he meant: Amateur salespeople are all about selling and pushing their product or service. The pros are about building relationships and truly helping their clients by understanding their needs at a deeper level. Yes, great leaders are sales professionals in the arena of selling ideas and change.

Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person: Once a change process is in the works, it is not uncommon for people to fall off the new track. When they do, talk about your own mistakes first. How about, “Let me tell you about some of the mistakes I’ve made. Experience takes care of a lot that you will get better at as you succeed in this new approach.” If we add up our own mistakes and faults before we criticize others, then we realize that none of us is perfect. For those of you who have ever worked for a “perfect boss,” the one who never made a mistake, you know what the opposite approach is like.

Praise the slightest improvement: When a major change initiative is in the works, some leaders want and expect the implementation process to take place almost overnight. Then they wonder why people make mistakes. Knowing that implementation does take time and people are sometimes slow to get on board, it is a great idea to recognize the little victories as they happen. Sometimes the people themselves are not even aware that they are managing a new system the right way. A precious leadership quality is the ability to see positive qualities in others that they are not even aware of themselves.

Always let the other person save face. Gary Player, the professional golfer, once said, “Some people think their own candle burns brighter when they snuff out the other person’s candle.” If you want to get people on your change bus, all going in the right direction, it is more than prudent to maintain the dignity of your entire team. Even when there is a big screw-up, address the situation without dressing down the person.

The principles above are all from Dale Carnegie’s classic How To Win Friends and Influence People.

All of us have issues with different personalities. We are all different. Some of us lack experience or come from a different orientation. We don’t see what others see, yet as business leaders we need to get things done without causing offense or arousing resentment with an engaged, committed team. We do need directness in our arsenal as well, but you know how ineffective that is for the most part in dealing with human nature. Remember, you can be right, but not necessarily effective.

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