As a leader we want our plans to be implemented, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen in the way we would like. Why is that? Could one of the reasons be our role as a sponsor of the change?  Sometimes it’s hard to resolve the paradoxes of change that we encounter as leaders in driving for success. For example, as leaders we need to give direction, but employees want to have the autonomy to make change. When a project appears to be stuck, the temptation is dive into the detail and give clear direction for what needs to be done. That way the project team will understand what they need to do and will see how it could be done better next time.

Alternatively, we recognise the need for a team to be self-directing, so they can own their ideas, and stay “hands off” to allow them to figure out their own direction.  This can result in a team floundering and not being sure what to do, because they don’t have the bigger context of what needs to be done and are concerned about stepping on others toes and feeling unable to move.

Great leaders of change find the middle ground.  This varies depending on the maturity of the organization, the complexity of the environment and the impact of the desired change.  They use the following tips:

  1. Ensures the team not just knows, but understands the context of the environment that they are working in.
  2. Gets the team to clarify what the outcome looks like and how will they measure success. This ensures the leader and the team are
  3. Sets boundaries for what needs to be done. If there are any decisions that have already been made, or if there are constraints about the way that the project can be delivered whether they be budget, resources or timelines, the team will know as they formulate their plans.
  4. Agrees their role as a leader in communicating the success of the team more broadly. Asks the team how they would like to be recognised from a non-monetary perspective.
  5. Agrees how often project updates will be provided, especially on what barriers the project is facing and what the team needs from a leader in order to be successful.

Leading change is not being a “super” project manager, neither is it about being completely hands off.  It is about creating the environment where teams and individuals can flourish and achieve successful outcomes.

Acknowledgements to:

  1. Mariana Viera for our discussion on leading change and her insight in reviewing this article
  2. Larraine Solomon for exploring and playing out this change.