MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you lead a team during a time of transition? is written by Linda Addison, U.S. Managing Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.
Change is the new constant. Leading during a time of transition has become the norm as technology, globalization and new competition disrupt established business models. When I was elected U.S. managing partner after our previous leader unexpectedly stepped down, our firm had to deal with change on a number of fronts simultaneously: a new leader and leadership style, business changes as a result of our combination with a global firm and sweeping industry changes in the practice of law itself. I quickly learned firsthand that to be effective, leaders must help their organizations and the people in them embrace change, and overcome the fear and resistance it often breeds. Here’s how:
Act with a sense of urgency
Once you spot a change that needs to be made, make it as quickly as possible. Most people are change averse. But change made incrementally gives people more time to resist. And the more resistance, the less likely change will occur.
Put your employees first
Every transition has two components: the business side and the people side. Although it is tempting to focus only on financials, you also need to give equal attention to your employees. What sets leaders apart is their ability to create a vision, communicate it effectively and motivate people to achieve it.
In times of transition, leaders need to make their employees feel secure. A lack of information makes people anxious. And if you don’t give people the facts, they will make up their own. Clear and consistent communication can be time-consuming and challenging, but there is no substitute for it.
Answer “What’s in it for me?”
It is not enough to merely announce a master strategy and explain its overarching value. People need to understand what their part in the change will be and how it will affect them.
Demonstrate realistic optimism
Optimism inspires confidence. But optimism must be grounded in reality. ‘Happy talk’ is not credible. Acknowledge there are issues to overcome and fully explain how they can be resolved.
Show that you’re invested in the issue
Reaffirming shared objectives is especially crucial in times of transition. Our firm’s global commitment to diversity includes hiring women for 30% of our equity partnership and senior leadership positions by 2020. This is an ambitious goal, but we have already elected a U.S. leadership group that is 36% female. This shows we are heavily invested in this issue.
Let your voice move the boat
A leader is at the helm of any team during a transition. Mary Whipple, who led her women’s rowing team to five world championships and two Olympic medals, personifies effective leadership. Mary is the coxswain, meaning she is in charge of the boat. She sits in the stern facing the rowers; the only member of the team without a paddle, and the only one who can see where the boat is headed and the direction in which it needs to move. Her main task is to motivate the crew. The rest of the team pays no attention to the pace or the direction; they listen to her directives. The bottom line? If you stop communicating, people stop rowing. Let your voice move the boat.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you lead a team during a time of transition?
The upsides of change at your company by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.
How every boss should tell employees that change is coming by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
3 ways to embrace change at your company by Kathy Collins, CMO of H&R Block.
A good boss never leaves their employees in the dark by Sandi Peterson, group worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson.