S2 E6: Inclusive Leadership with Mark Webb
Being a change leader is all about creating the right environment for those impacted by change to feel like the change is achievable. That they can be resourced to overcome the metaphorical mountain in front of them. But “leader” in the context of change is not simply about someone who has hierarchical power. In fact, more often than not, the real leaders of change are the people within your team or departments who have an understanding of your role, recognise the importance of the change and can help bridge that gap because they believe that overall the change is important to achieve and they are willing to provide the extra capacity, to take on the extra work to ready themselves and then to help others.
Mark, in our final episode this season recounts just how crucial his team were to his own adjustment and acceptance of his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. Although he himself had to find the motivation to go through the change it was made easier by the fact his team rallied around him. Rallied by learning about the condition, understanding his potential needs and making adjustments that would reduce the effort of transition. Additionally they prepared themselves to have frank conversations with him about what they did and didn't know and sat with the awkwardness that genuine empathy requires in generally easing some of the burden but confronting the topic as opposed to sitting with some awkwardness. Although the change in this example is deeply personal and more traumatic than your average organisation change, I genuinely believe the principles are the same. We create change agent networks and super users - people who are trusted and motivated to “lead” their fellow colleagues and reduce the initial friction the rest of the organisation may feel from the pressure of the change.
Mark’s experience in navigating his career in the early stages of his diagnosis and adjustment highlight another key aspect. When Mark was considering his own future, he struggled to see how he would continue to perform his rather physical and confidence demanding job with his energy sapping and unpredictable condition. Thankfully his leadership team made the space for considering change - to consider how to get the best out of Mark for him and the company. It was clear the current role wouldn't work - but should they lose amazing talent because the one approach they had didn't work any more. It's amazing how many organisations in fact do this to their employees - “oh your circumstances have changed and you can't do the job EXACTLY as before. Sorry no thanks you must exactly fit our definition”. Bye bye amazing talent.
Thankfully in Mark’s case, his leadership continued to see his potential - they explored new avenues. They worked with Mark to try things out - new things that had previously never been tackled. They saw it as an opportunity and that is afterall what change, any change, is all about - the possibility of new opportunities.
People with different perspectives, people with limitations or just individuals going through different phases in their lives have a lot to offer. They have different perspectives and those perspectives along with their inherent knowledge are the gateway to new opportunities - if you are willing to see it like that. As I think most “transformation” programmes I have witnessed and those I have read about all seem to treat people as surplus in the new “digital world”. Transformation looks to reduce the “no longer needed” people who were proficient at the old ways and with it the organisations look to take the cost savings. They look for efficiency. True transformation looks to redeploy. They look for productivity - how can we use people who don't need to do work in the old way any more in new ways to give us new opportunities and them a new career for the next part of their journey with them. It is another great reminder that change brings more opportunity, but we have to push beyond the easy answer and dig deeper.
The last lesson I want to draw from Mark’s time in the chair and career is one of creating advocates. Mark’s unexpected but welcome and needed support - from his team and his managers and peers - created loyalty and trust. I have your back and you have mine. In a world where most employees likely believe that if push came to shove their organisation wouldn't hesitate to make the call - how you treat people will be the difference between ongoing support and brand stardom vs social media trolling brand trampling. Creating the space for something new, being honest about what is possible, being sincere about the reasons for decisions are just some of the things that will help create loyalty and advocacy.
So many great lessons from Mark’s experiences about enabling change and opportunity to thrive - but do you dare to open yourself up to lead change this way?