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Philip Cox-Hynd

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Change leadership: how to give employees a sense of control


A few years ago a group of London psychology students were charged with carrying out a survey on the general public.

Their study consisted of approaching strangers in the street and posing the question, “Which of the following would you find the most physically challenging? (1) deep sea diving, (2) power gliding, (3) addressing a theatre full of people, (4) rock climbing, or (5) tight rope walking?” Around 80% of respondents answered that addressing a full theatre was the most challenging – in spite of the word ‘physically’.

Why would this be the case? Unless it is part of one’s profession, spontaneous public speaking is likely to cause considerable anxiety; this is purely because of our predisposition as pack animals dictating to us that the survival of our species depends on our individual ability to get along well with others.

However, through stages of socialisation, we often learn the hard way that behaviour that is out of line with the rest of the pack is unacceptable, and the negativity we feel prevents us from making such mistakes again. Simply put, getting along with groups is an inbuilt part of our survival mechanism.

On a psychological level, feelings of physical threat will cause changes to heart rate, breathing and muscles as the body prepares to enact the fight or flight mechanism. Similar reactions can be caused by embarrassment, guilt or other perceived inadequacies, and trigger the release of adrenaline, be the threat physical or emotional.

A lack of control

When anyone is faced with doing things differently it can produce adrenaline. Learning to change my golf swing, learning to use the weights at the gym in a more effective way or learning to apply a piece of software differently to how I am used to doing it will all produce varying degrees of adrenaline.

How that adrenaline is interpreted all depends on the context and bottom line depends of whether I thought of doing the changes myself, or did I feel the changes were imposed?

This sense of any change being imposed versus changes being agreed to by the individual goes to the very heart of bringing about sustained change within a leadership group or the teams that those leaders lead.

The critical factor when it comes to deciding on or agreeing to doing anything differently (this is a simple definition of change), is that there is usually something beneficial in it producing a co-created outcome.

Put simply; draw your leaders out so they understand not only the reasons for change, but also how they can influence the way that change is implemented - this will mean they feel part of the solution.

The same goes for bringing about change within the team; really involve them, talk to them at length, listen to them at length, ask for their solutions and find ways of incorporating their ideas for the changes needed, as well as good reasons as to why some of their ideas may not be applicable.

Draw leaders out so they understand not only the reasons for change, but also how they can influence the way that change is implemented

Change by choice

In my book ‘Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice’, I explore in greater depth the psychology of change and what lies behind people’s resistance to it.

In part two of the book, through several case histories I explore practical ways to bring about change both in leadership groups and in the teams that they lead, resulting in change being owned and driven from the bottom up, not just from the top down.

When I was Lead Change Consultant on the Viagra project with Pfizer the case history shows how real engagement produced efficiencies that added up to that drug going to market 9 months ahead of schedule.

In another case history the change project that I designed and helped deliver with Ella’s, the organic baby food company, showed how the teams within the company became so committed to change that the leadership had to slow the change project down to avoid team members delivering some aspects of change too quickly for the company to be able to absorb.

Mindfulness was the underlying common thread throughout the engagement and delivery of change and this is highlighted throughout the book.

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