Leadership involves managing change – how good are you at it?

Leadership involves changing and knowing how to manage change with your team in order to instate a culture of accountability and innovation. However, no one is naturally inclined to change, as change means accepting loss of control, trusting the unknown, being vulnerable, facing one's fears. Real change can hardly take place without a modicum of courage. A wise friend said to me recently, as I was expressing my anxieties over a change I was making: 

"If it didn't make you uncomfortable, then the change wouldn't be big enough.''

We often hear about "managerial courage". Researchers Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger have defined courage as follows: "Saying what needs to be said, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way. "[i] This may sound simplistic, but let's take a closer look. Do we always say what needs to be said, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way? I surely don’t! 

Managing change involves leading with head, heart and gut

Let's look here at the conditions that truly introduce a new culture in our organization: leading with head, heart and gut, contextual leadership and the ability to have difficult conversations. 

Leading with head, heart and gut[ii] represents for me the change in organizational culture that we need to make in order to move away from the old, traditional model of leadership, based on expertise, to a new model, based on context. 

The traditional model of leadership has been based on knowledge, on right answers, on "the head", with all that it encompasses, i.e. vision, analysis, solution finding, finances, numbers, performance indicators, true and false. For many years, managers had the authority while their employees implemented. Their primary mandate was not to think but rather to carry out the plans drawn up by management. The leader therefore had to have the answers to everything. Under this form of leadership and business reality, the leader had to take the strategy and structure and rely on his own expertise to bring value: they invariably defended their point of view. In this way, they carried a vision and made good strategic decisions. This model carried out for a very long time. It still does to a lesser degree. 

Organizations have evolved as the business environment is dynamic. I don't know of any company that advocates the status quo as a business model or corporate culture that can succeed in the long term. The needs of our customers are evolving and changing - whether technological, organizational or other - are now part of our daily lives. In this world of "VUCA[iii]", our employees must think, adapt, evolve, collaborate, create, co-create and innovate to be successful. This changing business environment requires us to challenge our traditional leadership model. 

Let's revisit the notion of the VUCA environment and the needs it generates. 

The VUCA model 

  • Volatility: Need for vision

  • Uncertainty: Need for agility

  • Complexity: Need for courage

  • Ambiguity: Need for understanding

Volatility: Even with all the data in hand, unexpected, unstable challenges of unknown duration arise.  

Uncertainty: The causes of events are known, there is a possibility of change, but the outcome remains uncertain and unknown. Uncertainty generates a need for agility. 

Complexity: Even if we have all the data in hand, they are not necessarily easy to understand; many variables have to be considered in the prism of analysis. Complexity creates a need for courage involving taking risks without measuring everything perfectly.  

Ambiguity: Although we have all the data, the links between them are not clear. There is no precedent for this. Ambiguity generates a need for global understanding. 

In such a context, it is impossible to have an answer for everything. Our job is to understand the context, mobilize the right people for the job, and trigger the right processes so that appropriate solutions emerge. By introducing contextual leadership, we move from the power of the right response to the power of the right process. Contextual leadership takes into account values, culture and interpersonal bonds, it involves the risk of a player depending on others to increase their value and enhances the strength of the team. The result is increased involvement, clear "alignment" and an intuitive view of the team, where relationships matter. 

Let me ask you some questions:

  • How traditional is your leadership; how well is it adapted to the business context?
  • As a team, how do you meet the needs of your organization for vision, agility, courage and overall understanding?
  • How does (or should) the VUCA environment affect you as a leader?
  • As a leader, what could help you better evolve in this VUCA environment?

We often have a more traditional "top-down" leadership approach: which was highly valued in the past and still gives us security today. Leaders have generally been successful because of this "top-down" approach linked to the expert and directive leadership styles we visited previously. We still need our heads, albeit in a very limited way. We don't want to strip leaders of their intelligence! Leading with the head goes without saying: we must understand, reason, establish action plans, consider several options to make a decision, evaluate the effects of our approaches and measure the achievement of our objectives. 

However, it is equally important to approach the professional world with heart and gut. I associate heart and gut with coaching, visionary, affiliate and democratic leadership styles. Coaching involves listening to our interlocutor and taking an interest in them with sincerity. Carrying the vision implies transmitting it to people and inspiring them. Acting democratically implies not having an answer to everything and valuing everyone's contribution. It is in these areas that heart and gut become indispensable. 

A culture of innovation, growth and agility requires contextual leadership that appeals as much to the head as to the heart and gut. Demonstrating these three resources that we possess has become a business imperative that delivers positive results for the company and provides opportunities for people to grow. 

Leading with head, heart and gut is an invitation to be complete and to develop a connection with others. 

As always, I invite you to be inspired and inspire!


[i] Michael M., Eichinger Robert W.,FYI: For Your Improvement, A Guide for Development and Coaching (4th Edition) For Leaders, Mentors, and Feedback,  2004

[ii] DOTLICH, D., RHINESMITH, S., Head, Heart, and Guts, Mercer Management Journal


[iii] The acronym refers to the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus.

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