Blog: Cultural Integration + People Management

Do Leaders Change?


Yes leaders can and do change but it varies from person to person. For successful behavioral change to take place three imperatives have to tie into each other. The first one is the leader’s self awareness of the impact that his/her behavior is having on his/her team, peers and colleagues. Second important pre-condition or imperative that has to exist for the leader to be successful in behavioral modification objective is the existence of an environment that is a created and supported by a ‘learning organization’. The term ‘learning organization’ is not to be confused with ‘organizational learning’, the former refers to an organization that is receptive to learning from its mistakes, encourages dialogue and risk taking invests in its employees from the developmental perspective and truly appreciates the value of human capital; the latter term ‘organizational learning’ is the sum of information that its employees have, share and learn from.
A learning organization, of which an individual leader is an integral part of, creates the right environment for its people to advance professionally and to learn from their mistakes. It happens as a continuum throughout their employment life-cycle. But, most importantly it starts with the ‘onboarding’ process for the leaders. The first six months is the most critical period in defining a new leader’s success and credibility within the organization. The ‘learning organizations’ through trial and error have realized how critical this phase is in any new leader’s assimilation into the organizational culture. As a result of this wisdom, these organizations have realized that assigning internal mentors or coaches to the executives to help them through the transition is an investment worth making. The risks associated with leaving these new executives to their own machinations of finding their way around the cultural maize through trial and error is cost and risk prohibitive.

The third critical imperative that can help facilitate the process towards behavioral change is the talent and development plan strategy. In the case of leaders who have been with an organization for sometime but are working on addressing some of the behavioral blind spots, it is critical to provide them with the tools to be successful and overcome the challenges in their leadership style. Here again, coaching can play an active role but only if it is not considered a punitive or a corrective intervention but rather is encouraged as a part of the overall talent management and development plan for the leader. In this situation, the value proposition for the leader to change his or her behavior should be clearly articulated and called out as an individual performance goal tied to the reward system and monitored through the performance development plan on quarterly basis. Over here, it is perfectly okay to communicate to the leader what the incentive would be for behavior modification and identify the risks to the individual for not following through on the plan. Leaders are just like the rest of the employees in terms of trying to determine the ‘what’s in it for me’ WIIFM rationale before they commit to any behavioral change actions. And, as long as the end objective is clear to them and ties in to the risk and reward equation, they will be incensed to embrace the change.

In most organizations, I have observed that either one or the other of the three imperatives is missing and thus falls short on providing the type of environment necessary to enable behavioral change. As a consultant, I have provided these organizations with the strategies, plans and tools to embark on that journey of changing their own culture around accountability and reward system before they impress upon their leaders to change.



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