A large part of my quest for effective change in organisations focuses on leadership. Leaders clearly aren't the silver bullet but you can't achieve lasting change without some leadership focus and resolve.
What Leicester and their manager (change leader), Claudio Ranieri, have achieved in winning the English football Premiership is amazing, given the scale and quality of competition they were up against. Their odds of winning were 5000:1!
I found this article interesting because it highlights a few lines of thought that are emerging, which I believe drive effective change leadership. However, they aren't often realised in organisations or indeed even all being taught in leadership development.
1. 'We not me' leadership
Firstly, the article describes Claudio Ranieri's approach to leadership: "from his first day as manager he was keen to make it clear that it was not he who was special but the team (and league) that he had come to serve." Contrast that with the recently sacked Chelsea manager and new manager of my beloved Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, who is self-titled as 'the special one' and you start to see my concern. If we can get more leaders to focus on the 'we' not 'me' we are a lot more effective at leading change. Creating and inspiring followers of a cause or vision for the good of the organisation is much more effective than being focused on being the special, successful one at the top.
2. Managing equity and balance across your team
Secondly, Leicester is made up of a team of nurtured talent from lower leagues without any megastars or any of the drama / entourage that comes with that.
If leaders can build a balanced, focused and committed change team that are in it together and need one another to be successful, then they can make great progress. Over-reliance on 'stars' doesn't make for a good team performance. Some humility and mutual respect is key here.
3. Adapt your approach to play to the strengths of the team/culture
Thirdly, without the big budgets of the top clubs, Ranieri had to work with what he had and build a successful team based on their strengths. Does this sound familiar to you?
He also had to adapt his approach, having developed a reputation as a 'tinkerer' most notably with an incomprehensible set of substitutions in the second half of the match which unbalanced his then team, Chelsea, and essentially lost them the semi-final of the Champions League. He stopped that at Leicester and focused on the team, not crucial decisions / interventions he made as an individual. So if we can get leaders to understand their people and unite them around the vision by applying their different strengths in the same direction of change, there is less need for constant tinkering with structure, operating models etc.
4. Fulfil your role as a member of a wider leadership team
Finally, and this isn't part of the article but merely my own opinion on change leadership, we need to get leaders to be a real part of the leadership team and recognise their responsibility to work together to move the organisation forward in a focused, coherent way. Rather than the collection of talented and driven individuals, incentivised only to make their unit perform as highly as possible, that is so commonplace in most organisations today. Leaders lead a team but they also are part of a team. If they are united around common purpose and goals they can all pull in the same direction, towards the strategy and vision, focusing on key changes and the organisation progresses rapidly. That sounds obvious but it's not a priority for most leaders or even leadership development programmes and it's not how most leadership teams function. Ranieri didn't reach these heights without a united owner, chairman, board and management team to guide and enable him and the team to focus only on chasing their dream
In summary, in practice, what can we do to help leaders lead change successfully?
This is the mega-million dollar question! Some learnings/thoughts from the Leicester successes are:
- Help them understand and enhance the attributes they need to be more fluid and lead change: being dialled-in, agile, transparent and pioneering enough to try new approaches
- Help them articulate a compelling vision and tangible goal to focus everyone and everything on, to never let go and help them believe it can be done
- Help them see the shadow that they cast - help them see the impact of their behaviour on people around them and help them build a strength-focused team
- Show them how they can achieve their personal goals, by contributing to the wider organisational/change goals, not compete against them
If Ranieri can adapt his own approach, using limited resources and budget to achieve wildly successful change on that scale and in that short time-frame then it has to be good news - there is hope for us all!
The quest continues...
And so, when we aspire to become leaders ourselves, the question in our head is characteristically whether we too have that special quality. Are we made of the right stuff – a stuff that allows us to outshine mere followers? It is a highly profitable view, both for those who run costly training courses to help us discover our inner leader and for leaders themselves who can use the idea of exceptional qualities to justify exceptional salaries. It was not for nothing that former Chelsea FC manager José Mourinho styled himself ‘the special one’. But then again, perhaps it was. For the point at which Mourinho became convinced that he was ‘special’ appears to have been the starting point for his decline.