Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of it is innate, some of it is learned; some of it is clearly definable, some of it is more esoteric; some of it is easy to recognize, some of it sneaks up on you.
Studies have consistently confirmed that the greatest contributor to successful organizational change is leadership. In repeated studies of hundreds of companies and their change efforts, “Strong Executive Sponsorship” was cited three times more frequently than any other contributing factor to successful change.
Why does leadership have such a huge impact on change? Because people support what they think their leaders support. If they don’t think their leaders are really going to make a change happen, they figure they shouldn’t waste too much time or effort thinking about it. They figure they have an “out” to just ignore. If they duck down in their cube long enough, all of this change stuff will blow over. For organizations that have tried to change in the past and failed, people feel even more justification in believing they can wait it out and nothing will come of it in the end.
But how do people really know what a leader supports? Certainly anyone in a leadership position is going to be telling their people that the big new thing is going to be great for the organization and the people. But people develop their perceptions about what leaders support not only through leaders’ words. Leadership action is even more important. Acting in ways that are consistent with words is the magic combination that moves people to act in new ways that leaders define.
It is like the leader is the celebrity and the employees are the paparazzi. People are watching what leaders do and say, and they are filtering all of that information to figure out if they should be on board with a change or not. Talking the talk is useless if walking the walk doesn’t follow.