Career & Jobs

To Transform Your Organization, Change Yourself: Here Is How To Get Started

Just as you count down to the end of this year and look ahead to better days, the news turns gloomy.

Covid roars back, threatening to disrupt your hoped-for return to quasi-regular routines. What do you do now? Will you give in to anguish and frustration?

Because you are irrepressible, you refuse to surrender to anxiety and dismay. Instead, you move forward with plans to ensure your organization is agile and resilient. You begin to think about ways to equip your company to withstand the uncertainty and thrive within it.

Consider this: Successful organizational transformations rely on leaders’ openness to personal changes. Why? Because how you lead and what you can achieve hinge on deep and long-held assumptions about organizations and leadership.

Outdated beliefs can limit your ability to prepare your organization for the demands of these challenging times.

Throw Out Assumptions That Narrow Your Perspectives

You, like everyone else, hold assumptions about organizations and effective leadership. These often-hidden beliefs form frameworks that guide what you consider and how you act. Thus, they become the boundaries for what you can accomplish.

By suspending your assumptions, you can free yourself to entertain new perspectives. This process involves removing limits to your thinking. As a result, you will be able to consider an expanding range of options.

For example, consider how you view your company. You, like many leaders, may think of your organizations as a compilation of discreet units such as finance, marketing, human resources, etc. This perspective is too narrow and constrains how you think about change.

Your organization is much more than the boxes on your org chart. Effective leadership requires more than moving those boxes and attempting to control what happens inside them.

Reconsider Your Views of the Organization

Consider envisioning your organization as a system. Rather than discreet units, a system has many interdependent parts such as purpose, structures, people, norms, policies, and processes.

Moreover, the organizational system is dynamic, shifting as people move in and out, the business environment creates new demands, and goals and strategies evolve.

Assess Where You, as the Leader Fit

As you give up outdated beliefs and reconsider your organization’s complex and dynamic nature, ask yourself where you fit in this picture.

Old-style leadership frameworks place leaders on top and outside of the system. This view assumes the leaders manage and control the system from above.

For example, leaders who delegate responsibility for changing the organization to a department such as Human Resources or call-in expert consultants to serve as change agents would fall into this camp. These leaders communicate to the change agents the issues they want to address. And rarely do they include themselves as part of the change picture.

While they may ask for the consultants’ expert advice on a strategy for change, they still set the agenda. The people tasked with conducting the plan are accountable to them, and thus, they hold all the power.

But wait – what if you alter your perspective.

Instead of viewing yourself outside and on top of the system, envision yourself as a part of it. With this point of view, you realize that you impact the organization and, in turn, it affects and changes you.

Rather than viewing your role as a puppeteer pulling the strings from above, you come to understand you are merely an essential player in the bigger picture.

Shift Your Perspective from Controlling to Influencing

You may be wondering how you can lead if you give up the illusion of control. The answer to this legitimate question is that you will lead through influence.

With this framework, you are only as effective as the strength of your relationships. And your success depends on your ability to inspire and coach. You must be willing to model the values you claim and the behaviors you want to see throughout the organization.

You are likely to experience some discomfort as you move from controlling to influencing. And you may need to acquire additional skills. But over time, your increased effectiveness will dispel your uneasiness.

Getting Started on Personal Change

“OK,” you say. “I’m open to these changes. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m ready. How do I do it?”

While eventually, you may choose to seek the assistance of an executive coach, first, you can take some crucial steps on your own.

Identify and Address Personal Obstacles to Change

Begin by asking yourself simple questions that will help you get ready for change:

  • What, if anything, scares me about these personal changes?
  • What am I holding onto unnecessarily?
  • What are my values, and how can I more fully lean into them as I lead this change?

Take Inventory of Your Capabilities for Leading Differently

Next, review your capabilities for influencing systems change:

  • Do you know how to lead through collaboration rather than command and control?
  • Do you know how to build coalitions across the system?
  • Are you willing to consider the positions of others and advocate for your points of view?
  • Do you view communicating, building trust, engaging stakeholders, and driving progress as the most significant aspects of your leadership role?

This short inventory is merely a partial list of the capabilities you will need to succeed. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. And create a plan for how to acquire the capabilities you may lack.

Accept that Personal Change is a Process, Not an Event

Moving from a controlling to an influencing leader is hard work. You are unlikely to achieve this personal transformation overnight. Humbly accept that you may fail from time to time. Give yourself grace and learn from your mistakes.

And never forget your end goals: successful personal and organizational transformation to enable strength and resilience for the ongoing challenges in our brave new world.

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