The role of the CEO - critical conditions for change

The role of the CEO - the critical conditions of any corporate change management programme are the CEOs willingness to change and their understanding of being both part of the problem and the solution

The need for change management in a business can come from a variety of directions. Maybe market conditions are shifting, perhaps you need to embark on the next growth stage, or what if the company has become inefficient to the point where it’s very survival is threatened? Whatever the reason, the individuals involved - and indeed the whole group - will find their deep rooted habits and practices impacted by change. As such, looking at the personal dimension is not enough, in these dynamic times you need to think about the group too.
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Of course, as the leader you play a special role in the group, not only guiding the team towards their goals but also remembering that at all times you’re a role model. So for organisational change to happen it’s critical that two conditions exist. Remember the old one about ‘how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb’? ‘One - but the light bulb has to want to change.’ The first condition is that, like the light bulb, you have to want to change. Secondly, you have to understand that you are at least part of the solution, if not part of the problem.

Sound trivial? Not so, because time and again we see how well-meant programmes fail precisely because one of those two conditions is not in place.

The leader has to really want change.

Often leaders endorse and support development programmes, as long as they are presented individually. The true test arrives when the different programmes operating within the company have to be implemented alongside each other. Staff are quick to figure out which programmes leaders support and fight for and which ones they’re willing to sacrifice. When it comes to the crunch, what is likely to make you act with indifference? When should you hold your position and how could you develop yourself to make things happen? In your position, if you follow a programme half-heartedly and fail to set your own bar of enthusiasm sufficiently high, then what can you reasonably expect of colleagues who look to you for an example?

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“If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.”

DaShanne Stokes

The leader is part of the solution, if not part of the problem

“After three years in a post a leader will have the employees they deserve”, I was once told. Colleagues will either adapt to the leader or leave. New employees are only attracted if they can identify with the leadership. Eventually, the group begins to mirror the values and characteristics of its leader, reflecting both positives and negatives. Consequently, to expect the team to change without considering the leader is an illusion.

Effective leaders understand how they are central to the situation, how they influence group dynamics - intentionally and unintentionally - and thus how they are in a strong position to initiate change. So if you’re the spark that lights the fuse, when you instigate change as a leader you also send a strong signal as a role model. The message is that, if you expect colleagues to follow, you have to demonstrate your own willingness to change behaviours and practices. 


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is, of course, much easier to push the responsibility to everybody else. You have the authority, right? Yet all that does is create a situation where everybody is pointing fingers and the problem remains unresolved. Admitting you’re part of the problem and seeing the solution in yourself is, of course, much easier said than done. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, not only in front of your team, but even more so to yourself.

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.”

Joan Wallach Scott


Many change management programmes are doomed to failure from the start and are simply a waste of money. Even worse, they amount to negative energy for the many who understand and believe in the need for change. As a consequence they become frustrated and burned out. To avoid this, as a leader you should really reflect on those two critical conditions. Is change genuinely wanted? Where is it intended to lead? And what was your conscious or subconscious role in creating the current situation in the first place? How do you need to develop personally in order to allow and enable the organisation to change?

Clarity of purpose and direction are essential prerequisites of an effective strategy. Clear prioritisation is equally important if you’re to avoid taking on too much at once. Self awareness is crucial and no-one, even the CEO, can be expected to solve everything single-handedly. Help can be sought from a range of sources including mentors, peers, coaching and valued family members. It may appear daunting and stressful, but with a willingness to embark on such a journey it can ultimately be exciting and rewarding.

Are you ready for change?

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