Congruence and leading change
After many years working with organisations in change, two things have become clear to me: first, that many leaders see change as something they have to get other people to do and second, that many employees think their leaders don’t ‘walk the talk’ or practice the behavioural changes they preach.
A typical change programme in today’s organisations may come packaged as ‘values-based behaviour change’ – with a call to put the company’s values into action in support of the strategic vision. ‘We need people to act this and that way for the organisation to be successful’ is the underlying ask from leadership.
The problem isn’t the business case for change since this is usually easy to understand e.g. ‘the environment has just got tougher and we need to do more with less’. The problem is a preference for avoiding the discomfort of looking at and considering changing our own behaviour. Unsurprisingly, many leaders prefer to support other people and groups to change rather than work on themselves; those other people, in turn, prefer to help other people change … and so on.
The cost of leaders not embodying the kinds of changes they ask of others is immense for two very simple and powerful reasons. The first is that when they avoid exploring the discomfort of change before asking others to, they miss the opportunity to equip themselves with the kind of skills, empathy and understanding that would be invaluable for supporting change in others. The second is that when they don’t work on their own behaviours, leaders lose the ability to lead by example and are perceived as incongruent.
This incongruence creates a lack of trust, diminishes respect and reduces the capacity to lead. Internally, it can be even worse: the secret knowledge that he/she cannot walk the talk can leave a leader with feelings of shame that erode their sense of self-worth.