In business, if one is not moving forward, you can be assured the competition is. In one's professional goal pursuit, if one is not progressing forward toward the prize, you can be certain that your colleagues are. Without constant improvement, it is certain that other companies, departments, and people will inevitably pass us by as they move toward the same prize that we covet. The problem is that organizations, such as small business, major corporations, non-profit organizations, and schools, are often resistant to the change that is required to propel us forward. Employees, although I admit there are those early adopters that embrace change and seize opportunities to try and do things that are new, often run from change.
In attending my district's Leadership Institute last week, that was one of the points that was hammered home several times. In our reading, one quote struck home with me. It said that it was the effective leader's responsibility to "recognize the need for change...or create it."
Human beings make changes when they either have to avoid something unpleasant or win something that they really want. Tony Robbins calls this the principals of pain and pleasure. Although he simplifies the concept too much for my taste, it is echoed in other leadership journals. Although there are those who are truly inspired by working toward an attractive goal, the majority of employees finally accept change when they are attempting to get relief from or avoid something unpleasant. We leaders must, at times, use this concept to effect change in our subordinates and organizations.
As the quote above states, we begin by looking for and recognizing the needs for change. We begin by looking for natural sources of stress that can be used to help change take place. In my profession, which is public education, I co-supervise over 100 employees, with the majority of them being teachers. The natural source of stress in that context is the simple act of holding teachers accountable for the performance of their students. When analyzing the data of the previous year, which is being done nationally this summer, the simple act of sitting down with a teacher and having them defend their class' performance on standardized tests is a strong source of stress, especially if the class did not do well. In that situation, a poor performing teacher, who previously resisted trying new and innovative things in the classroom, is usually in a much more willing frame of mind to give things a try. Natural negative outcomes can be strong sources of stress to jump-start change in all organizations, not just school systems.
Another avenue, in the absence of a natural source of stress, is for the leader to create their own need for change. The leader sets up a source of stress, which can be relieved by a desired change. This is not to say that the leader sets up an adversarial relationship, in which he/she becomes the source of stress, although there are many leaders who use this approach. I know several administrators in my district who uses this approach by entering their building with the goal of becoming the biggest bad-ass there. They rule by fear. They publicly berate employees. They threaten firings. They create a huge amount of stress, with employees recognizing that changing to the new administrator's methods is a way to relief. They change -- quickly. The school improves. However, it is at the expense of employee job satisfaction. Morale plummets. Many teachers quit. The administrator sees this as getting rid of dead wood and accepts this as an acceptable by-product of school improvement. I'm not sure I buy into that.
I see a more attractive solution, where the leader is not the source of stress, but creates it. The leader can then become part of the solution in supplying a positive change that will relieve the source of stress. The leader becomes a support to the staff in leading them through the stressful situation to a positive conclusion rather than pushing and prodding them through it. I have seen administrators use this approach with positive results in performance, but also causing staff morale to soar and loyalty among the staff members. One teacher, in referring to a principal who always used this method of helping to facilitate change, said, "I'd walk through hell if that man asked me to, just because he was the one who asked me."
There are many ways to prompt and facilitate change in an organization. As someone who sees positive relationships between employees and management as something that is as important as performance and that one does not necessarily exclude the other, I see a truly effective leader as one who can positively lead their people through natural, as well as, self-created sources of stress that become the agents of change.