It always amazes me how some companies can continuously be on top while making very few changes in appearance to their products while other companies constantly reinvent themselves to stay on top. Companies like Coke have pretty much made their business successful with their one key product, Coke. When you think of Coke, you think of them as a company that sells soft drinks. Apple computers has gone from making most of its money from selling computers to then selling iPods, to then selling iPhones and iPads. Unlike Coke, Apple is no longer thought of as a computer company but rather most people think of iPhones or iPads. Though thinking of Coke as a soft drink company would technically be incorrect as well.

The one thing that both of these companies have done well is change. Though most people think of the soft drink when they think of Coke, much of Cokes business is actually sales of things like water, juices, coffee, sports drinks and tea. Cokes leadership years ago seen the growing trend against sugary soft drinks in a growing health conscious market and started refocusing the company to be able to adjust to the growing trend away from their main product. One of their biggest selling products in the US is Dasani water. Apple once only sold computers and today they are known more for their iPhone then for their computer. Apple changed its product focus years ago to selling personal smart devices and moved away from high end personal computers. Leadership, in Apples case, led the change into new markets and a way of directing the customers personal needs experience.

Whether it is adjusting to changing markets by getting into an existing trends like Coke selling bottled water, or creating a new trends like Apple with the iPod and iPhone, key to both is change. Change is the one constant. Key to leadership is being able to see the need for change and then successfully directing it. There is no one right change formula. In some cases change is getting ahead of changing trends such as Coke has done. In other cases, it is changing to something no one is yet doing. Both types of change take vision. Both types of change take hard work. True leadership is about constantly seeing the bend in the road before others and when there is no road, creating one.

A leader needs to be able to handle change. They need to be able to see the need, direct a plan, get others to buy into that plan and then work the hardest to help fulfill the vision. Real change starts with leadership making their own personal changes. You can not force others to change until you are ready to be the first to display change. In Mandt we talk about the importance of being the role model and providing safe shelters for others. Too often change dies on the branches of fear. People resist change and leaders who fear to act kill the vision before it starts. The other problem is leadership who see the need for change but can not inspire others to embrace the change. Sometimes this is because the leadership has not built safe relationships with others to feel safe enough to make the changes necessary.

Leaders need to inspire change but then they must empower change. People fear change because of the unknowns. They often feel helpless. By empowering others, leaders restore organizational power to the employees. Without the feeling of being empowered, employees will become filled with despair. Leaders let their employees help decide the change. They allow them to shape change. Simply giving people power is not enough, leadership must build commitment and that comes from being a part of the change itself.

There are lots of people in leadership roles. Titles and roles do not make a leader. Many leaders are just happy to sit in their position with their nice title but they do not want to really change. They are content. There are others who talk change yet lack the focus and motivation to lead it to completion. They speak the language of leadership but their actions are more directed towards the golf course, business trips, and social outings. If a leader is going to truly direct change, they must be the first in and last out. They welcome people into the change every morning and at the end of the day they thank them for their hard work and commitment. They inspire by being always visible and available.

The vast majority of the work The Mandt System does is in human service, education and healthcare settings. These industries are constantly having to change. They are having to find ways to do more with less. They are constantly under public scrutiny. The difference in those that succeed in the necessary change and those who fail is in the leadership driving the change. Are you responding or reacting to the need to change? Do you direct others to change while staying happy in your own role. Or, are you the leader who’s battle cry is “follow me” and you are out in front of the change: Role modeling, empowering, and inspiring. Change is the one constant. Look for the bend in the road and if you don’t see one…make a new road!

Tim Geels – Senior Vice President of Organizational Development