Three Leadership Characteristics for Personal and Cultural Change

By: Ron Kaufman

Change is one of the few things that is completely predictable in today’s world: there will be more of it year by year, and the pace of change will be faster. Some changes will come about naturally. Others will require clear focus and intensive effort.

If you want the changes in your life to be positive, you must set out to purposefully make them happen. In other words, your will-power and self-leadership (or self-management, if you prefer) are essential.

At UP! Your Service, we work with clients around the world who want to create positive cultural change by building an Uplifting Service Culture. While these clients vary from global, multi-national organizations to government agencies, our experience shows that leadership is always a vital predictor of success.

We note three characteristics of successful personal change that also apply to leading cultural change in a large organization.

1. Prepared

You must be able to anticipate what may be coming in the near future, and prepare for it in advance. It is no use living like a horse in blinders, looking on straight ahead and not knowing when you could be blind-sided by something unexpected. To make personal changes positive and sustainable, it is essential to be aware of, and influence or integrate, the other circumstances in your life.

Likewise, when building an Uplifting Service Culture, a leader must have a clear vision of the desired end-state, but remain flexible enough to deal with circumstances that may arise. For example, project delays are sometimes unavoidable. Rather than view such delays as ‘preventing us from achieving our vision’, a successful leader of cultural change anticipates such circumstances and helps people see that the bigger vision can still be attained, even if a bit later than intended.

2. Engaged

For any personal change to be sustainable, it must become a part of your life on a regular basis and over the long term. For example, instead of aiming for a specific amount of weight loss (a ‘lagging indicator’ of a successful diet change), an effective self-leader might keep daily track of what he does and does not eat.

Similarly, when creating an Uplifting Service Culture, a successful leader prepares the team for success by setting achievable performance improvement targets instead of reaching for the sky in the early days – and by celebrating those achievements on a regular basis. This requires the leader to be deeply engaged with the organization – not someone commonly referred to as “out of touch”.

For example, instead of aiming for dramatically improved customer satisfaction (a ‘lagging indicator’ of service improvement) the leader might measure progress more immediately and regularly by tracking increased use of new, customer-centric behaviors (a ‘leading indicator’ of customer satisfaction).

Successful leaders of personal and cultural change crawl before they run, and celebrate successes along the way.

3. Committed

New habits, especially good ones, are not easy to come by or stick with. They must be reinforced frequently or we tend to forget them and revert back to our old ways.

The same applies to building an Uplifting Service Culture. It is important to conduct frequent check-ins to ensure the new approach is understood, embraced and cascaded throughout the organization. Leaders should take action if communications or other channels are clogged.

With a personal change, if you notice yourself ‘slipping’, remind yourself why the change is desired in the first place, and take the steps required to get back on track. When you do this on a regular basis, change itself can become a habit and a healthy part of your life.

The same applies in cultural change. When a leader notices people ‘slip back’ into old behaviors or habits, he reminds them why the intended cultural change is good for the organization – and the individuals – and helps everyone get back on track.

Leading positive cultural change is similar to leading positive change in your personal life. These three characteristics require that a leader step our of his or her “comfort zone” and become mentally, emotionally and physically involved to ensure the desired change succeeds. Prepared, engaged and committed leadership is required. This takes discipline, focus and repeated effort. The old adage, “no pain, no gain”, may be good advice for us all.

This post was originally published on the UP! Your Service blog.