Organizations Can’t Change If Leaders Can’t Change with Them

Depending on whom you ask, enterprise transformation efforts fail between 60 and more than 70 percent of the time. With numbers like those, why even try? But in an article for Harvard Business Review, Ron Carucci actually points the blame for failure at the people leading the changes.

Look in the Mirror

Very often, leaders are just too optimistic about the ease of transformation and the benefits that will immediately appear with it. And worse, they perhaps try to enact change by using the same sorts of outdated thinking that are supposed to be replaced. A lack of self-awareness such as this is damaging to business, as one study suggests highly self-aware teams are twice as effective as low-self-aware teams in areas of “decision making, coordination, and conflict management.”

Carucci cites “transference” as a phenomenon that keeps people locked into repeating the same ineffective behaviors. Transference is when past events continue to affect how a person reacts in a present situation. He gives the example of a leader who, when asked for clarification about her change project, would interpret these questions as passive-aggressive snipes at her vision and ability to succeed. Were they really passive-aggressive attacks on her though? Nope:

… but her angry responses created the very resistance and passive-aggression she feared.

This leader needed to embrace people’s questions as an opportunity to further secure their commitment, not view them as personal attacks on her vision and leadership. A look back at her career path revealed a long history of unjustly having to prove herself, receiving unfair critique, and feeling second-guessed by those whose approval she desperately wanted. Each question from her team triggered past transference, compounded by the natural anxieties of leading high-risk change.

In order to develop true self-awareness, leaders should identify their behaviors that either other people do not like or that the leaders themselves do not like—and then the leaders need to figure out why they have those undesired behaviors. There is likely an unconscious worry at the root of negative behaviors. Leaders may want to literally write down what it is that is truly nagging them. Acknowledging a problem exists is always the first part of fixing it.

Like Rocky says to the Russians at the end of Rocky IV, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” You can view the original article here:

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