Leader – the change driver?

Kumar Parakala's picture


As we move into the future, we experience both changes and opportunities in the business world that challenge us in ways we have never experienced in the past. Life is full of changes, some good and some bad. Imagine this, when clouds roll in and thunder is heard in the distance, it is an indication of change in weather patterns. Just as with the weather, change can be indicators of storms presenting unexpected and chaotic measures. These changes can bring uncertainty, conflict, and confusion. So, is change a bad thing?

Leading change is an important leadership skill; it is rarely for the faint hearted. Such challenging programs require good planning and utilization of time. Strangely enough, the best way to ensure successful change is to know what to do wrong!

During my travels, I had the opportunity of meeting some of the most successful change drivers in the current history who transformed the face of law enforcing agencies in US and UK. The current FBI director – Robert Mueller and former British Intelligence Agency (MI5) director-general – Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller have become internationally renowned for driving unprecedented changes in the organizations they lead. Both leaders forged change through their sheer determination and an unrelenting attitude. They tore across bureaucracy and politics and transformed their age old intelligence agencies to combat major threats in face of terrorism post the 9/11 attacks.

So how did they do this? Mueller took over as the FBI director just one week before the 9/11 attacks and faced one of the biggest security challenges in the American history. He had the difficult task of protecting the people for future attacks. To fulfill this objective, Mueller sought to transform FBI’s entire institutional and operational architecture. He declared that the FBI’s top priority was preventing domestic terrorist attacks and that the FBI needed to become an intelligence-centric agency rather than purely law-enforcement­ centric organization. Manningham-Buller had a similar task of transforming MI5 to prevent future attacks on British soil.

They both faced differences of opinion in their organization and had to deal with bureaucracy and politicians. However, they remained firm on their plans in the face of opposition. Both of them were extremely successful in driving unprecedented change and transforming their organization into protecting thousands of lives. This is a great example of sticking by your beliefs and remaining undeterred when driving change. CEOs must remember that people are threatened by change and prefer to stick to routine. It is a challenge to shift this mind frame in any organization. Hence, change has to be driven from the top and must comprise among the top priorities of a CEOs agenda.

Change surrounds us and is unrelenting. All a person needs to do is walk into an electronics store and survey all the new gadgets available for purchase and you will witness a world of change. Change is an essential component of every organization to remain abreast with today’s market, technology, competition and maintain revenues. As changing and adopting helps organizations remain relevant to the evolving marketplace.

So we ask ourselves, how do some leaders make change seem easy? During my interaction with both Intelligence agency chiefs, I learnt a few valuable lessons on driving change, this is applicable to every leader in an organization. I understood that both leaders did not fear change and had the courage to do things differently against long standing traditions. They operated at a large scale and expanded their agencies to a significant size. So, that they were capable of dealing with major national threats. Both of them earned a reputation for being open and honest and proactive to criticism. They were both dealing with a major national problem that was difficult to either fully comprehend or quantify, yet they did not balk at the challenge. They judged the circumstance and took the necessary action to succeed under very difficult conditions.

There are several lessons to be learned for today’s corporate leaders in driving change. Some of the important lessons include, being open and honest in their approach, seeking proactive feedback on their initiatives, standing by their values and ensuring they are firm on their commitment to bring in change. When leaders apply this approach, trust and confidence is build within a team to embark on the journey of change.

After all, we have to remember that changes are made necessary for the greater good of the organization to maintain their competitive-edge. Most importantly, a leader needs to take bold steps, so that their organization thrives in tomorrow’s world rather than being complacent with today’s reality!