Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #95: Change Agent Challenge – Are People Following Your Lead?
To be a leader means to be a change agent. To be an effective change agent means you must have a high level of influence with others. In today’s episode Chris and Perry reveal five thoughts on how you can increase your influence and inspire people so they will follow your lead.
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Read the Transcript:
Perry Holley: Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to drive remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.
Chris Goede: And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us once again. Man, it’s our desire just to continue to try to add value to you and your leadership journey. Perry and I have the privilege of being with organizations around the world both from a coaching relationship, consulting or speaking, and it’s our desire just to kind of let you know what we’re learning and give that back to you; and so that’s kind of what we’re trying to do each episode. Hey, before we get started in today’s episode, just if you’re interested in learning a little bit more about The 5 Levels of Leadership, which is our foundation, it’s our model to help organizations in their culture, in their leadership development, or maybe even download a learning guide that Perry’s, kind of, created for us to follow along on today’s content. Don’t hesitate to jump on Johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast, and you can also leave a comment or a question if you have for us there. Alright, today’s title is the Change Agent Challenge – Are People Following Your Lead? You know, the leader, they have to be a change agent. We’ve talked about this in our last episode and one of the things that you really have to do to have effective change or be an effective change agent is to continually have a high level of influence with your people. If you don’t have that level of influence, you’re not going to be able to effectively have change inside your organization. So, excited to dive into the content today. Perry, get us started!
Perry: Yeah, I was watching a team I was on, a leader, I didn’t realize this at the time, I wish I had, but now, where I am now looking back, and how important having influence with your team and the level of influence you have is so important. But the team leader came in, laid out the new direction, the new mission, the changes we were going to make really necessary for us to grow the business, and then I watched as the meeting broke up, there was not eye rolls, it was not that bad, but it was not a lot of buy into that. And I watched over the upcoming weeks as no one really took an active role in doing what the leader had asked. They delayed, there were delays in taking action. I noticed people waiting to be asked two to three times before they, “Oh, it must be serious, he asked three times.” Making a lot of excuses about doing things, delays again. They took their own actions that were not agreed to by the team or by the leader, I know we’ve said it before, but people do things for their own reasons, not for yours as the leader. Yeah, but I do feel that if you want to be an effective leader of change, it really is the “Change Agent Challenge” is that people have to want to follow you, and that’s why we talk about the five levels all the time.
Chris: Yeah, and we set that foundation, the model at level two, under people wanting to follow you, it’s hard enough to get people to want to follow you without change. Right? And so, this challenge, to your point, which is now we’re up in the stakes, we’re up and ante, and are they going to follow your lead through this process? And we talk a lot about level two being the foundation to your success as a leader. And I want to unpack just for a minute, at this level about trust, and we talk a lot about this, and we could probably do multiple sessions on trust. But people are going to, you know, they’re going to be asking that question, “Can I trust you? Can I trust that leader?” It’s a great question that John is posed for leaders to understand that people will be asking of you, but here’s what we want you to know, trust is the currency of your leadership; it is the currency to increasing your influence. And so, if you’re going to lead people effectively, and then the challenge today is lead them through change. Man, they’re going to be asking that question and you better make sure that you have set the foundation of trust. And if you do, they’re going to follow your lead, they’re going to walk right with you through the change.
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Perry: I thought we would look at five thoughts maybe about increasing the likelihood that people will follow your lead, and we just walk through those. I’ll tell you, I’d love to get your thoughts on them. So, the first one seems awfully simple, but I think it’s critical and it is: Are you connecting with the people on your team? It’s a level two as you said, relationship activity. But if people have bought into you—if they haven’t bought into you, they’re not going to buy into what you’re trying to do. So, I think connecting with people, it’s a simple word, but it’s a complex topic on how do you get people to buy in.
Chris: Yeah, and leaders, remember, when you’re in the moment of change or leading through the change, it’s too late to start connecting with your people. Okay? You need to be connecting with them continuously. We call it, kind of, what are you doing before the moment to connect with them so that you’re connected to them in the moment? That could be the everyday operational exercise of your organization. It could also be this challenge that we’re talking about of leading through change, and so just make sure that you take your leadership responsibility with your team, seriously, from day one, even if you’re not going through change, because you’re going to have to, talking about change, we’ll kind of change the meaning of change right here, you’re going to have to pull some change out of your pocket when you’re leading them. And so, if you’ve done well connecting with them ahead of time, before the moment, then that’s going to drive your increase, influence, production, and the acceptance of the change in the moment you’re taking your team through.
Perry: Fantastic! Yeah, question two, I’d love your thoughts on this, but are you choosing empathy over sympathy? And you need to know the difference in those. You know, empathy is, I feel with you on some topic, but sympathy is I feel for you. And I just noticed that if people on the team may feel overworked, they may actually have an emotional response to what the change is, we talked last time about losing control how it’s affecting them personally. And if you have an attitude as, “Well, I’m sorry, you poor thing. Now, get busy.” That’s kind of a sympathy and it’s almost fake sympathy, but you cause people to feel that they don’t have a voice versus empathy that I feel with you and actually listening and giving them a voice into the change, I think, developed more of that buy in.
Chris: Yeah, and I will tell you that, man, I have seen this just in my own situation coming back into what we call everyday business, and in today’s, the pandemic of the Coronavirus, and when you think about that, going back to some of the things we’ve talked about, everybody’s going to feel and respond a little bit different to change, and so if you, from an empathy standpoint, allow your team to be heard, and to allow their concerns to be talked about and acknowledged, and that their input matters, because it does, it absolutely matters, what their thoughts are, what their input—they’re going to then more than likely buy in. We’ve talked about the agreement and alignment situation right there, right? So, your team wants to know that you can relate to them. They also want to know that you’re willing to, kind of, roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches with them and understand it. And there are some things that, especially with the younger generations of leaders that are coming up, I think it’s different, you know? Not only do they want to be a part of the leadership team and to be behind this big “why” in this message, but they also want to be heard. And so, I want to encourage you as leaders to make sure that you’re continuing to show empathy and understand where they’re at and ask questions and dig and understand their perspective in order for them to feel heard.
Perry: Yep, that’s good. And then, number three, I said: Are you influencing the influencers? Every team most likely has influencers on the team, and so, what I’m thinking of, are you doing the pre-work? Are you bringing people into the conversation? Why I think we have trouble with people following your lead and when you don’t have the influencers, if someone else has influence. I recall being a first line manager for the first time and I go in and tell people, this is what we’re going to do, and they all at one time, snap their heads and looked at a certain person at the end of the table and all went, “What just happened here?” Well, that was, and I didn’t know it at the time, but that was an influencer on that team, and I did not have the influence, this person did. Well, they were going to, if he gave the thumbs up, then I guess they would do what I said. It took me a minute to figure out that I don’t have the influence, I have the title, and that’s not really going to get things done. So, if you’re influencing influencers, they’ll help you.
Chris: Yeah, and when it comes to the influencers, I think it was Pat Lencioni, I was listening to a message that he did or a podcast and he was talking about as leaders, isn’t it true that we often want to go after what I would call the “naysayers” of the change, or the negative side, so if you think about it, and he has a name for the model of the thirds. You got a third that are with you, that are bought in, that are your influencers. You got a third that are neutral. And then, you got a third that are just your naysayers. And oftentimes, we want to go after and we want to solve the naysayers, and he’s saying, “No, no, no, no. Your influencers are right here. They’re the ones with you. Those are the ones you need to be spending time with. Those are the ones, it’s your point. You need to be asking questions, you need to be listening because that group in the middle, those that are neutral, they are the ones that are going to sway one way or another.” And if they see you as a leader, not necessarily paying attention or adding value to the influencers, that are buying into the change, that are buying into the culture of your organization, then you might lose them to the other side.
Perry: The minute they’re with you, other people will join in with you. Question four: If you really want to ensure people are following your lead, have you addressed the resistance? And there’s always going to be a resistance. Does it have to be a difficult conversation? Is it balancing care with candor? Is it just listening to people and understanding why are they resistant to the change? To your point just now, there’s a third, a third, a third, just to ignore that third is just foolishness. But there may be a very simple solution, but you also might uncover maybe there’s bad attitudes, maybe there’s something else going on that you’re not aware of, but deal with the resistance.Chris: Yeah, I would say it this way: receive it instead of resisting it. Right? Be comfortable with receiving that resistance. And that goes back to some of the things we’ve talked about, which is having conversations and being open to the dialogue that that’s going to create. Seek for movement and improvement, not approval, right? Through that process, and if you have that mindset, let me say it again, seek for improvement or movement, not approval, because if there’s something inside you that’s driving this change and you know this is right, and with your experience and your intuition, you’ve got to go with that. You got to go with that gut. And so, everybody might not approve of it, but if we can seek improvement and/or movement with those that are resisting change, then you’ve made progress. And the only way to really go about that, at the foundation of it is just to be open and to receive that, not resist their resistance.
Perry: That’s a great way to put that number two in there about empathy is that I’m going to listen but I’m going to listen with empathy, to understand where are you coming from. You know, what I found is sometimes I’m not on the front lines a lot and so other people may and actually do see things I don’t see. And so, all of us are smarter than one of us. Maybe the resistor has something that I need to know so if I go in fighting it, I could really hurt myself. So, I want people to follow my lead if I listen, get the buy in, might even learn something that I didn’t know. Wow! It helped me along the way. Finally, number five: If you really want to make sure that people are following your lead is creating small wins to build momentum. And I thought, we often set a big goal and change can seem big to a lot of folks. It could take a long time to see the fruit of that effort, but get smaller, interim goals that lead to larger goals and show the progress. Progress motivates.
Chris: Oh, man, yeah, you know, when you just said that, in my mind came a couple of projects or a couple of change movements that I’ve been a part of, and you just feel like you’re in a grind maybe weeks, maybe months at times, and there’s just no wins and then you begin to lose the momentum, you begin to lose the steam of the change. You forget the “why”, you get distracted, there’s no celebration. And so, I love what you said about, you know, it definitely builds momentum, and what’s interesting is that you’re going to have problems, you’re going to have challenges through the process of leading this change and having people buy into it; and I love what John says with momentum being the great exaggerator, he says, “Momentum will solve 80% of your problems.” And you think about that. I love to use sports analogies, and when you think about changing a new offense or changing a defense or changing, you know, coaches what that might look like, well, when things aren’t going well, and there is no momentum, there’s all kinds of problems and pointing fingers and verbalizing it. But when you begin to get little wins, a first down here, a win here, you know, you see some progress being made there, all of a sudden, those finger pointing stop, the problems might not have gone away, you’re still working through all those problems of change, but, man, that momentum is such a great exaggerator that it covers it. And so, as you think about this, start with the end in mind, whatever that change is, and then work backwards from there and say, “What are those milestones that we can celebrate as a team as we work through that?”
Perry: Yeah, I use it all the time, it’s just thinking as you’re talking. My wife wanted crown molding put up in a room painted and I thought, “Boy, that’s a big project. And I do have skills. I can do this, but it’s a big project. How could I get a small win? Would be, you know, buy the paint, okay. You know, get all the materials, okay. Tape the room off and where you don’t want the paint to splatter. Okay, that’s great. Don’t do it all at one time. I do it in a small win, small win, small win, all of a sudden, look back, the rooms painted the crown moldings done. And it’s a celebration at that point versus sitting there with an overwhelming me. Small wins, and it worked every time.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Well, as we wrap up today, I just want to give you a thought that I have, and this is relevant, whether we’re leading through change or just leading in general. And we are all in the people business, and I don’t want anybody to forget about that. No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what size your team is, you’re in the people business and one of the greatest things that I think I’ve seen throughout some of these major changes that organizations and cultures have had to make through this pandemic is that their value of people and their care for their people has just risen to the top. I’ve hosted some executive roundtables and I’ve just been fascinated by the way that they’re caring, and they’re thinking about their people. So, with that as context, here’s my comment for you: make your team the top priority, not the change. As you’re leading through that, make sure that your team is the top priority, not the change. The change will happen, but it’s not going to happen without the team and so just keep that at the forefront as you work through that.
Perry: Yeah, John says, you can’t do it by yourself, you need a team. Well, Chris, great stuff as always, and a reminder, if you would like the learner guide for this lesson, you can get that at Johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast. Love for you to leave a question for us there or a comment if you have one. We’re always grateful that you join us, hope you’ll do that again soon. That’s all for today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.
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