Want to Be a Strong Leader? Then C-H-A-N-G-E.

leading teams through change

By Angelique Luna

Nobody knows change like a project manager. Sometimes, change comes from indecisive stakeholders, and sometimes it comes from opportunities for improvement. At other times, it’s external, in the form of new market preferences, competitor landscape, or government regulations.

Today, the change is wrapped in a crisis. The pandemic has compelled project teams to embrace digital transformation. From team meetings to client communications–down to delivery of goods and services–everything’s been swept up into the virtual world.

leading teams through change
Change comes with challenges. When you consider the complexities of going solely virtual–at least for the time being–it can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you’ve been doing things the traditional way for the longest time; yet this is exactly the reason why leadership styles have to evolve, to respond to situations at hand.

More than anything, your organization needs adept and effective leadership. Leaders need to guide teams masterfully and reach goals successfully, even as uncertainty looms. In this endeavor, keep in mind C-H-A-N-G-E. Be an expert in adapting to and thriving in change by embracing the following characteristics:

1. Culture-focused

This element is most critical in seasons of change in the workplace, especially in the context of digital transformation. Without a shift in ways of thinking, communicating, and behaving, it will be difficult to own the new normal you’re introducing. A huge part of strategic leadership is changing the culture.

It’s worth noting, however, that just because you adopted technology in your operations doesn’t mean you have shifted into a new culture. The digital culture is not just about adopting the latest software, but it’s also about embracing the principles behind the technology: transparency, collaboration, and risk-taking, among others.

Below are a few important management and leadership tips for adopting the digital culture across your organization:

  • Define the issue. Answer these questions when communicating to team members: Why is there a need for change? Why should the current system be replaced? This, of course, will be obvious. Reiterating to team members and stakeholders will help them process the fact there’s indeed a need for transition.
  • Describe the norms of change. How do you make change real and seen? Some examples are orientation to new technologies, weekly collaboration meetings, and rotation of facilitation duties during brainstorming sessions.
  • Deliver reinforcement. How do you make sure that the new culture will stick? Some examples are performance evaluations and the default use of virtual platforms across operations.

2. Humble

In fragile transitions amid a crisis, it becomes all the more important to realize that you don’t have the answers and the solutions to everything. You may be the one leading the change, but you don’t have the monopoly of knowledge. Take on a democratic form of managerial leadership: be open to learning, confront assumptions, and abandon strategies that aren’t working.

In other words, practice humility. Promote feedback mechanisms regarding your digital transformation efforts through:

  • One-on-one meetings with team members. Provide a safe space where they can air out their concerns. What makes a good leader in great movements of change is their ability to open difficult conversations.
  • Surveys. Choose the platforms that is most convenient for you and the team. For better results, keep the surveys anonymous.
  • Informal team events. Have team members share opinions in a laid-back setting, such as virtual happy hours. More important than the feedback, is the ability to form bonds with them, which can lead to positive long-term professional relationships. A significant part of effective leadership strategy in the digital age is building rapport with your remote team .

3. Accountable

Trust can easily erode in times of change and crisis. This is why leaders who go through a period of transition must assume responsibility and ownership of their actions.

Being accountable to your team members, and expect accountability from them. Below are some accountability practices you can try:

  • Review decisions. As you go through the transition into digital, making decisions along the way, have a third-party individual assess those steps. Your team members who see this will learn that even project managers are subject to the same performance evaluation they go through. You are showing them that no one is above the rules.
  • Recognize mistakes. Be quick to own your mistakes, and acknowledge to your team that there’s a need for improvement.
  • Recite progress. Commit to providing your team updates on what’s been happening with your digital transformation initiatives. Ultimately, this kind of collaborative leadership style will form better relationships with team members.

4. Not Afraid

It’s easy for everyone to feel lost during a change or a crisis. This is why it’s important for you to be that beacon of light: decisive and courageous. The decisiveness in you directs the next steps the organization will take, while courage inspires the people around you to take those steps.

This can be a huge challenge when you’re afraid of change yourself. One thing that really helps you to overcome your negative feelings is to focus on the benefits of the change. When you identify, one by one, the things you’ll enjoy when you accept change, you’ll welcome them, not dread them. Take note of some of the rewards of digital transformation below:

  • Increased collaboration among departments through technology.
  • An empowered workforce with new skill sets and knowledge.
  • A wider reach for marketing messages through social media.
  • Effective leadership and management through preferred platforms.

Add more to the list. Understand that there may be birth pains now, but there will also be triumphs and joys when you come out on the other end. With renewed motivation, you’ll be able to make swift yet calculated decisions and project boldness among your team members.

5. Goal-oriented

Adept leadership skills include the ability to draw up a vision and stick to it. Especially amid a crisis. You must rally your team towards the goal of embracing the digital world regardless of the hurdles along the way. How do you keep your eyes on the prize? Observe the following:

  • Set goals as a team. Since there’s a crisis, goals will need to be reviewed and changed, as needed. Everyone should pitch in on what they think the team should gain from digital transformation. This way, you’ll be able to lead your team to own “the dream” from the get-go. Take note of this important management style, as this is one of the critical components of strategic leadership.
  • Share the hard questions. As you set goals as a group, focus on the following questions:
    • What’s most important in the short-term? While you set your eyes on the ultimate prize of being a digital-first team, be realistic and identify priorities at the moment, as you cope with the crisis. Take note that short-term goals should be aligned to the bigger vision. Think of baby steps toward the ultimate goal.
    • How do we measure success? Together, come up with key performance indicators (KPIs). For instance, in terms of technology training, 100% proficiency in simulations can be a KPI.
  • Speak about goals often. At every team meeting, reiterate your action plans. Look for people who can be advocates of your goals. They can not only make change less jolting for the rest of the team, but they can possess leadership potential which you can tap down the road. Celebrate small wins such as the successful on-boarding to digital platforms or virtual communications with clients.

6. Empathetic

There’s a global health crisis going on, and your staff is definitely experiencing its ill-effects, perhaps caring for a sick loved one or dealing with a partner’s job loss. Show sincere concern to your employees, as you go through this major transition. Explore different leadership styles in organizational behavior to respond to the needs of your team.

The administrative leadership style may be of help to some, as they’re able to keep track of their daily tasks. Others may benefit from an autocratic style that they need not to think through decisions and only follow whatever’s asked of them. The importance of effective and empathetic leadership can’t be overemphasized in a time of crisis.

It’s can be a struggle to adapt to the digital age, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Yet, it’s the only way to go, the key to keeping your project team afloat.

Embrace the change. Be the C-H-A-N-G-E.