Do you lead or guide change?

When considering if you lead or guide change, consider the following:  Do you keep your commitments to yourself? Don’t feel bad, not many of us do, probably because people are naturally resistant to change. If it’s that difficult to realize a change in yourself, imagine how much more difficult it is to elicit change in others! Leading change is hard!

Leading change

Much is written on how to lead change effectively. Dr John Kotter, regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change, spelt out his eight steps to increase the success of transformational change in an article published in 2007:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Establish a guiding coalition
  • Create a vision
  • Communicate the vision
  • Empowering others to act on the vision
  • Plan for and achieve short-term wins
  • Consolidate improvements to lead to greater change
  • Institutionalize the change

This is invaluable advice when leading change.  However, should you lead or guide change?  Are they different, and if so, how?

Guiding change is much more than leading change, for guiding change starts with the establishment of a culture that embraces change. This concept is implied in the reason for the change: to provide an advantage in a continuously changing and more challenging environment.

Guiding change

1. Supports continuous improvement

Normally when someone speaks of leading change, they have a ‘final destination,’ or defined process in mind, one they want to reach in a relatively short but well-defined time frame. This ’stop and go’ approach to change is not guiding and is not consistent with the need for continuous improvement.

2.  Is about values

Both leading and guiding change require a vision of what could be, but intrinsic to guiding change is adherence to one’s core values. It is ensuring that people believe in not only the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ of change. They understand how it affects them personally.

3. Is about influence

Unlike leading change, where one’s authority and power dictate what, when and how things will be done, guiding change is about educating, teaching, and encouraging people in the direction you wish to go, not necessarily on a well-defined path. It is recognizing there are many ways to arrive at the same destination and the journey is often just as important as where you wind up.

4. Is proactive

When leading change, it is often a reaction to changes around us. Guiding change, on the other hand, is anticipating what will be required for success in the future and preparing for it. Guiding change is strategic while leading change is tactical. When guiding change you must champion the change and create an impetus for the change.

5. Is Inclusive

Leaders provide direction, but great leaders awaken others to the possibilities that exist and inspire them to attain them. Guiding change invokes the ideas and passion of others, not just the wishes of a few. It recognizes that ‘more heads are better than one’ when coming up with ideas but does not stop there. It fosters creativity and innovation by encouraging and empowering employees to implement change and more. Guiding change involves and values everyone.

6. Is holistic

Whereas leading change concentrates on a specific outcome – reducing staff, reorganization – guiding change understands the dynamics and interaction of the whole, that everything is interconnected and a change in one area impacts another. It focuses not on increasing the value of a particular objective, but rather on making the ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’ – increasing the value of the entire organization – its people, service and profit.

The ability to lead change is important, but the greater value comes from being able to guide change by creating and living culture in an organization that promotes and retains company values while adapting to the needs of employees, customers, shareholders and the community. Leading change may be hard, but guiding change – by establishing behaviours that are practised daily, without conscious thought – can make it easier and more successful.

Author – Leadership Is…(Dot, Dot, Dot); Leadership Coach; Strategic Counsel; Organization Effectiveness; CLO FedEx Express (retired); Keynote Speaker