WHAT kind of leader do you want to follow in a world of constant change?

I know my own answer: I want to follow a servant-leader.

Servant-leaders exercise foresight. They study the past and present to understand trends and develop their own intuition about the future.

They consider the possible impacts that future events will have on all their stakeholders — employees, customers, business partners and communities.

They know that as the needs of their stakeholders change, servant-leaders and their organisations must also change to remain relevant and effective.  

Five Ds

Leading change is a journey, personally and organisationally.

That is the message of an award-winning book by Walter McFarland and Susan Goldsworthy — Choosing Change: How Leaders And Organisations Drive Results One Person at a Time.

The two authors describe the Five Ds for individual and organisational change: disruption, desire, discipline, determination and development:

• Disruption is an event or experience that suggests the need to change.
• Desire is a measure of the degree to which an individual or organisation wants to change.
• Discipline is about the small, consistent steps needed to achieve change.
• Determination is about the resilience to keep going even when there are setbacks.
• Development is about continuous improvement, with feedback and ongoing learning.

Change yourself first

One of the many insights in the book is that leaders have to be willing to start the change process by changing their own behaviour.

If the leader is not willing to change, how can he expect everyone else in the organisation to change?

“Regardless of who you are, choosing to lead great change in your organisation begins with choosing to lead great change in yourself,” wrote McFarland and Goldsworthy.

It’s not easy. After all, most leaders have risen to leadership positions by knowing a lot and being “right” most of the time.

In order to change, they have to step outside their comfort zones, explore new ideas, and adopt the ideas that better fit the changing environment. Doing that requires the willingness to learn and grow. 

One of the things that leaders need to learn is that the traditional models of leading change are not very effective.

According to the authors, threatening to fire people if they don’t go along with the change process does not improve the likelihood of success.

In fact, the “power-coercive” approach can make matters worse in the long term.

Explaining to employees how the change will benefit them also has its limits, since it does not tap into people’s need to contribute to a higher purpose.

Desire to develop

To be successful, leaders need to build the desire for change within the organisation.

One way to accomplish that is by developing people.

McFarland and Goldsworthy wrote: “Our research and experience confirm that development is a key factor in successful change efforts.

“When you focus on developing your people, every part of the change effort gets easier: Your team members handle the disruption better, they contribute more, and they find it easier to build and sustain the desire for change.”

Leaders should invite large-scale, meaningful participation by the employees who will be affected by the change.

Employees should be trained to be proactive and adaptable. New personal development goals should be established.

Leaders should identify and keep their colleagues focused on the higher purpose of the change effort.

Mr Robert Greenleaf, who launched the modern servant-leadership movement, would have agreed with McFarland and Goldsworthy.

Mr Greenleaf said that the most fundamental business of any organisation is to grow its people. That is why his “best test” of a servant-leader was: Do those served grow as persons?

If our leaders grow and help others to grow, our organisations will not only succeed in their change efforts —they will be an example for other leaders and organisations around the world.

Article by Dr Kent M. Keith, chief executive officer of the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership (Asia) in Singapore. You can meet Walter McFarland, co-author of Choosing Change, at the Greenleaf Centre’s upcoming annual conference on April 22 and 23. For details, visit www.greenleafasia.org