Every leader I talk with these days is leading through some kind of change. I suspect you are, too.
Maybe you’re in an industry that’s being disrupted by technology. Maybe you’re leading a team that’s been part of a merger or acquisition. Maybe you’ve been assigned an under-performing team that needs coaching or a complete shake-up. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur leading a team through the uncertainty of the start-up phase.
If you’re dealing with change, this post is for you. And I’ve got three very practical lessons to help you find new opportunities in times of uncertainty.
I’ve drawn these lessons from a conversation I had recently with a good friend of mine who has been knee-deep in change for years. She leads nearly 4,000 employees in 83 offices worldwide, and they are smack in the middle of the digital industry.
My friend is Ruth Stubbs — a fearless leader and an inspiring change agent. I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years about leading through change. She’s a pioneer in digital marketing with more than 25 years of experience in the media industry and today serves as global president of iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency and one of our sister agencies in Dentsu Aegis Network.
Ruth is a wife, mom and endurance athlete. She lives in Singapore and is a tireless champion of female entrepreneurs.
But what really strikes me about Ruth is how she brings a journey mindset to dealing with change. She’s learned to view change as a part of the leader’s journey, and she looks for ways to help her business and her community find new opportunities in the midst of change.
Here are three valuable lessons I took from my conversation with Ruth along with some useful tips that can help you lead more effectively through change.
Lesson #1: Instill Confidence in Your Team Courageous leaders use their passion for the journey and their optimism about reaching the destination to create confidence in others. But change creates uncertainty that often paralyzes people. And once paralysis takes hold, it can become virtually impossible to move a team forward because they cling to what they know instead of having the confidence to reach out for what lies ahead.
You can prevent that by instilling confidence in your team, grounded in a clear vision for a path forward. Here are a few tips for how to build confidence in others:
- Encourage and praise team members whenever they bring their A game.
- Celebrate the small wins.
- Support them when they take a chance.
- Help the team see progress toward the goal and believe they can get there.
“One of the most important things in my role is to instill confidence in others,” Ruth told me. “When people are confident about the future, there’s less doubt and less paranoia. Change shouldn’t scare you; it should excite you. Sure there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, so you must help everyone see the opportunities that await. And when things fall in place, people draw confidence from that.”
Ruth helps create confidence in others outside of her business, too. While working in Southeast Asia, she learned that many women run businesses from home but lack the confidence to consider themselves merchants. They also can’t get funding or even open a bank account on their own. So they have little hope of growing their businesses.
That’s why she started Female Foundry, an organization that helps fledgling entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I greatly admire this initiative and all Ruth has done to help women entrepreneurs. Female Foundry provides resources and mentoring to promising companies. But, just as importantly, it gives their founders confidence that they can achieve their dreams.
Lesson #2: Collaborate For The Win When leading a team through change, you must have people who are willing to work together to grab hold of emerging opportunities. In Ruth’s case, the iProspect global leadership team aligns on a common vision and business practices so they can be opportunistic and take action at the right time.
That’s hard to do if employees drift into silos and stop communicating or working as one. If your team struggles with collaboration, you’re probably also missing out on new opportunities right in front of you.
You can change that by helping your team collaborate for the win:
- Show them the benefits of working together and the value of collective thinking.
- Teach them how to lean into each other’s strengths.
- Encourage them to offer support when someone else can really use it. These things build trust and reliability in your team.
Like all successful leaders, Ruth values the team and nurtures collaboration whenever possible. When she launched Female Foundry, she didn’t do it alone or even just with the support of iProspect. She sought the involvement of her parent company, venture capitalists, and iProspect’s clients to form a team that’s far more influential together than any of them could be alone.
She brings the same focus on collaboration to her day-to-day work, and believes you must be a learning leader, especially in times of change. “Don’t be too structured in your thinking when you’re looking for new solutions,” said Ruth. “Be open to what the universe can bring and what you can learn from others. I learn something new from my people every day.”
Lesson #3: Champion Others Leadership is not about you and your success. It’s about taking others on a journey to somewhere important. When you champion others, you end up creating champions.
But you can’t do that with a self-focused approach to leadership. You have to develop a giving spirit and a passion for helping others that’s rooted in your own personal belief system.
If you lack this, you need to do some self-reflection and self-discovery. If you’ve already got some passion around giving to others, act on it over and over and over.
“If the world has been good to you,” Ruth pointed out, “you have to pay it back. You have to have a giving spirit. Doing kind things must be at the top of your to-do list.” Giving to others and championing them makes the leadership journey far sweeter.
Ruth, as you might have noticed, is a high-energy, get-it-done leader. She sees challenges and attacks them with confidence, compassion, and action-oriented solutions. Now you know why I am proud to be her colleague and friend. When we lead like Ruth, uncertainty doesn’t stand a chance.