"Be the change you want to see in the world" is an often-heard quote attributed to many different people including Ghandi. However, the actual quote from Ghandi is a bit more complex: "We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do."
In today's organizational environments, the leader plays a pivotal role of being the change he/she would hope to inspire and see in others. Yet the importance of this is often not fully understood by leaders as they lead change. In conducting dozens and dozens of interviews with people that are listening to a new strategy or a significant culture change, we have a chance to ask the simplest of questions... "what do you think?"
Surprisingly, the answers are very common. The typical response about the content of a transformative strategy or the wisdom of a radically shifting culture comes down to this reaction: The problem is not the strategy or the culture, it is our fundamental disbelief that our leaders will change their behaviors to bring it to life! So, what is a leader's role in "being the change that they hope to see in others"?
Leaders need to change themselves if they hope others will follow.
Here are 4 ways to lead by example:
1. Make it personal---Nothing dies a quicker death that a slide deck with business lingo so overused that it has become meaningless. Words like accelerated change, engagement, empowerment, synergy, collaboration, accountability, and buy-in. The use of these words over and over makes change impersonal. But, for any leader to be an example for change, they must make it personal. Personalizing the story allows a leader to become part of the story and not just a teacher of some third-party intellectual conclusions. As leaders, we need to share with others why we are doing this, what we need to do to get there, and how it all relates to every individual person! Be vulnerable with concerns and challenges you see for yourself as this makes it safe for others to do the same and bring them out in the open to address proactively and positively.
2. Relentlessly remind people about the human size of the prize---You can't just tell people how big the prize will be in financial terms. They can't relate because it's not going directly into their pockets. The real size of the prize in transformative change is to build something compelling and become part of something bigger than yourself. People need to make the connection from their individual contributions to the company winning, finding a better way and making a difference. To help them along, tie the size of the prize to the purpose. Focus in on showing them:
a. Who we are,
b. What we do,
c. Who we do it for
d. How they change when we do it,
e. All the new ways we are going to be able to do it in the future,
f. And how much better their lives will be because of it!
3. Take symbolic action---Do things that strongly reinforce we are serious about making and staying with this change. One company comes to mind with a great example. In its old way, when quarterly earnings were going to fall short, the corporate functions announced what cuts would be made to meet financial expectations. But in its new iteration, the CEO instead informed the general managers of the problem and asked them to solve it. This single symbolic action made it clear the company and its leaders were serious about radically changing the way they operated... shifting to running from the customer needs back, instead of from the functions outward.
4. Become the Chief Story Teller---Highlight the different choices that real people are making to contribute to the early wins depicted in the overall story. A great story does more than inform or amplify, it adds value by connecting the purpose with practical actions and meaningful outcomes that are of interest to your people. Howard Schultz of Starbucks is known for telling stories about his trips to Milan and his passion for fresh, richly brewed espresso. He'd discuss how it made him feel, and even the romance in coffee. Bringing those stories to his teams made them feel connected to the source, to the core of the kind of joy what they were doing each day was able to bring people.
What is the best way that you lead by example?