The first lambs are appearing in the fields – bright and bouncy, and seemingly unfazed by the coldness of the wind. Whenever I’m admiring lambs, I find myself wondering why we are generally so rude about sheep. I think the point is their reputation for blindly following a leader, whether that leader knows where he’s going or not. So it probably wasn’t that difficult for poor Gabriel’s over-zealous sheep dog to chase the herd over the cliff in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.
But people of course, are a bit different and don’t follow so easily.
This is a major reason for the resistance to change that tends to be a big sticking point for any transformation programme. Just telling people what the change is, and how you need them to act in the ’new world’, is never enough. It can feel as if people are being obstructive and sticking to the old ways regardless. Why don’t people do as they are asked?
Best practice for change management process emphasises the need for good communication. We talk about the need for frequent messages that explain the reasons for change from the perspective of each stakeholder group, and with the tone and language that they would use. This is important, but there’s something more – modelling behaviours. In simple terms, this is ’leading by example’.
Research has repeatedly shown that ’modelling the way’ is one of the most important leadership behaviours. The physiology of the human brain causes people to imitate the actions of others; particularly those they perceive to be of a higher status. Successfully leading people and organisations through a transformation involves modelling the new behaviours in actions as well as words. It’s easy to overlook this, while focusing on getting communications right, putting new processes in place, and consulting with key stakeholders.
In a recent article, business authors Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner and Michael Bunting suggest that “the moment people see their leaders failing to model the way, a secret resistance begins which leaders are usually the last to know about or understand.”
By modelling and demonstrating the behaviour change that they wish to see, leaders can set the standard. ’Walking the talk’ is essential for credibility, and to be able to inspire and influence others.