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Leading Means Leading Change

Leadership

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change,” according to Tony Robbins’ mentor, Jim Rohn. All business leaders face the usual challenges – transforming cultures, creating operational efficiencies, and driving the top line. All change has one thing in common – whoever is leading it needs to gain acceptance and commitment from the team.

Leadership is nothing if not about change. As leaders, we know creating positive change starts within. I learned much of what I know about leading change while I was in the U.S. Army, from ages 17 to 26. I saw people who held impressive rank, but positional authority didn’t always correlate with effectively leading with willing followers following.

People in business may think leading in the military is simple – just give an order and people follow. But that only happens in extreme circumstance like combat – just a small percentage of a soldier’s time. In business, people often follow repeatable policies and procedures that can be trained in a course. In the military, assignments are short, so you’re always doing something for the first time. In some ways, there is more change in the military than in the business world.

Becoming a leader who inspires change isn’t easy. Even in the military, leaders have to work hard to gain commitment and acceptance. A friend who is a retired two-star general says, “If I had to give a direct order, I knew I had already failed.” In other words, if a soldier did something because “I said so,” the leader hadn’t gained acceptance or commitment along the way.

Change Is Cultural
Early in my business career, I thought I could train and coach teams through challenges and problems. But I soon realized that behavior in organizations comes from everything that makes up the environment – that’s the key determinant of success or mediocrity. And that’s why we spend so much time figuring out how to create the right environment, the right culture, so we can foster innovation, facilitate change, and provide fulfillment to the team members. When we can do that as an art, we can instigate change from the heart. But culture has to start at the top, with the purpose as expressed though vision, mission, and values. If your leaders aren’t walking the talk according to their stated values, you’ll never realize the culture change you desire.

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In the military, every unit has a unique culture service members take pride in. For example, field artillery units wear red socks, and the Calvary wear a fur felt cavalry hat. The culture creates bonds of trust, and within that trust, people have open conversations and rules for creating the norms. When that kind of culture exists, leaders can guide change. They don’t have to sell people on the details. Continuous change just becomes “the way we do business.”

Change Requires Sacrifice
To inspire people to change, leaders need to be willing to change their own way of doing things. What does long- term change mean for you? Chances are you’re comfortable. Change requires some degree of discomfort, but great achievements require great sacrifices.

Successful leaders have a passion, and they’re willing to sacrifice the status quo to fulfill it. Think hard about what “sacrifice” means. Now think about what sacrifice requires. It means giving something up so you can focus on something else. Sacrifice is different than investment, because sometimes leaders sacrifice without a direct return. Leaders give their teams more and more to do, but they don’t tell people what to stop doing. Then they can’t figure out why so many change efforts fail. You yourself have to say “no” to some things to truly focus, and that may be the hardest step of all.

A famous motivator, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, once said, “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things – the books you read and the people you meet.” I would add, “and the sacrifices you make.” It would be pretty amazing if our commitments to sacrifice so we could change inspired the will to change in others.

These are the Ten Self-Reliant Leadership Essentials that effect change – in yourself and in others.

  1. Passion: What am I driven to change?
  2. Vision: Do I know where I want to go?
  3. Consideration: Am I assessing past events that may be holding me back from changing?
  4. Intention: What happens if I don’t change? What will the future be like?
  5. Planning: Have I given myself milestones for change, with due dates?
  6. Commitment: Is my passion powerful? Do I have the courage to act?
  7. Sacrifice: What will I need to stop doing? Am I willing to leave my comfort zone?
  8. Discipline: Can I stick with the change and not procrastinate?
  9. Action: Am I working my plan and measuring success?
  10. Habit: Has the new behavior become a habit, so it no longer feels like a sacrifice?

The last marker of personal change is not so much an action, but a result of a disciplined approach to these ten steps: Character. Has the habit become so ingrained as to become part of who I am? What will be my legacy with the people I lead? What can I do to augment my personal growth?

Which step is your strength? Which step most needs your focus to adapt the way you think, approach others, and truly lead change?

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