This quote from Alvin Toffler, noted author (remember Future Shock?) and futurologist is a great way to put us in the mindset of this month’s topic: Dealing with Change. Aside from being one of my favorite topics to teach and facilitate, it is in my mind, one of the crucial core attributes of successful leadership in today’s dynamic business, political and service environment.

To further set the stage, consider the results of a recent survey by McKinsey & Company of more than 1,600 executives, senior managers and mid-level managers worldwide where they were asked, among other things, about how well they have responded to the current economic crisis. No one doubts the economic crisis represents disruptive change but a significant test of leadership (RPC edition 10/08) as well. In the survey, respondents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction as a business leader in various areas. What caught my eye were 3 specific areas that are telling in the area of leading change in today’s environment. They are (percentages are % very satisfied with performance):

C-Suite Mid-Mgmt
• Retaining, attracting talented people 35% 26%
• Positioning company for growth 34% 27%
• Developing people’s leadership capabilities 29% 25%
so they can manage crisis

Why do only a third of C-level executives and roughly a quarter of mid-level managers feel they are doing very well in these areas? Why are they struggling with adapting to the changes created through the economic crisis? From my own 30 years of experience, I offer three reasons why this might be the case.

Wait it out – Embracing a wait it out strategy by definition puts the organization behind their competitors. Forward thinking leaders continue to use the recession as a means to re-evaluate their strategies and re-tool their businesses for the new realities of the business, political and service economy. A wait-and-see leader will only be able to react to the new environment with little leverage to dictate direction like their forward thinking counterparts.

Unprepared culture – I suspect the organizations that were not very satisfied with their performance in these areas were likely not doing very well in the same areas before the crisis. Their culture likely was not built on a platform of continuous change. By instilling an evolutionary mindset to change in the hearts and minds of the organization, a leader will be in a much better position to make the crucial decisions necessary to embrace the crisis head-on.

Lack of people skills – Change is an emotional process. Leaders who are not comfortable leading in a culture of accountability, transparency and empathy are doomed to lag behind on their limitations of these crucial people skills. Change cannot be successful without people embracing the change as a positive, a mindset the leader must enable through open and transparent communications.

How are you handling the new realities?

Lead Well.

Rick Lochner