The warning signs of poor leadership during change

Too many change initiatives fail because of poor leadership.

I see this happening too often in organizations when leaders approach change on either the wrong foot or with an inconsistent leadership presence during execution.

Based on my experience, I have identified five key warning signs of poor leadership during change and if you spot any of these, it means that your chance of success is getting lower.

1. The fanfare syndrome

This is one of the most common mistakes. Leaders announce through major corporate events and across all media that are going to be disruptive, bring innovative solutions, change their company culture, or transform digitally their processes.

By doing so, they excite the audience and build great expectations about the change. Unfortunately, the excitement fades away very quickly.

One of the reasons is that leaders, after the big announcement, disappear and go back to doing what they were doing before. They give the wrong sign to the entire workforce.

This approach doesn’t work well. 

For a simple but important reason. Leaders always go first. They must show their commitment to change in front of the entire organization. Pointing fingers and asking others to change (while they are not making any change..) is a terrible leadership practice. People will quickly notice their leaders not adapting to change so why should they care then?

So, instead of planning big announcements, better play small and show 100% commitment to change if this is critical for the organization.

2. Leaders stop talking about the change

As a result of their low commitment, leaders often stop talking about the change internally.

They launched the initiative by picturing the vision for change but they stop sharing that vision soon after that. 

This is a huge communication breakdown. Vision for change and why matters to the organization must be communicated on any occasion. During large and small meetings, in one-to-one conversations, and with shareholders.

Change is already a painful and sometimes long process. Imagine how employees can feel when they work hard to make the change happens while the leaders disregard the importance of their work.

Not surprisingly, they burn out, disengage and lose motivation.

3. Not breaking down barriers

To make change successful, it’s important to break down all barriers and silos in the organization. 

Change, especially if involves two or more departments, does require strong cooperation between internal teams and functions. People must be able to work together effectively, and be equally committed and engaged along the entire journey.

But if they have competing priorities and different objectives, driving change becomes very difficult.

Breaking down barriers is not the responsibility of the team leaders. It’s the responsibility of the top leadership. 

4. Lack of resources for the project

Another warning sign that is easy to spot is that the change project doesn’t have enough resources to be executed.

It’s frustrating for employees to be asked to run mid/large-size projects but quickly realize that leadership is not investing enough to make change happen. These projects do require investment which should be agreed upon early on. 

For these initiatives, organizations normally need to hire external change leaders, dedicated teams, and consultants. But not just that. To make the change stick, it’s often necessary to reconsider the organizational design, the job roles, training and development, new systems, or performance management strategies.

As a result, without giving full autonomy and support to the sponsor and/or change leader to make these additional changes during execution, it’s barely impossible to implement the required change. 

5. Leaders talk negatively about the change

This never stops surprising me. Leaders who are advocates for change first and then turn into the worst critic.

This behavior is often seen during execution and normally after the initiative starts to face the first obstacles. 

During any change initiative, it’s normal to make one step forward but then make two steps backward. This is how change works. However, some leaders become impatient with the results and, instead of supporting the change team and over-communicate the vision internally, they start blaming and directing their attention to something else.

This makes employees more concerned about their leaders. If the vision was so critical for the company, why did leaders lose faith and hope so easily?

At that point, it would be much better (and fair) for leaders to acknowledge that change was either a mistake or not as important as they thought in the first place. 

This unfortunately doesn’t happen often.

Either if you are the leader in charge or part of the team executing the change, I recommend finding the courage to speak up and having an open conversation internally to discuss these warning signs before it’s too late.

Listen to the podcast related to this article: https://www.andreapetrone.com/the-warning-signs-of-poor-leadership-during-change-podcast/



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