Many organisations will face a leadership crisis during the implementation phase. This type of crisis shows through a deadlock in taking initiative. At these moments it is unclear who will take initiative and what the expectations of others are.
This leads to an anticipation game: who will move and who will do what? Assumptions, unarticulated expectations and questions dictate the narrative. Are people allowed to take initiative at a given moment? Will it be safe to do so? Even in failure? Which rewards will be your part when you take the risk? Or should everyone actually wait for the management team to set guidelines?
In order to pre-empt this kind of deadlocks, we address the leadership issue early on in the change process. What do we mean by leadership? Who may take initiative when? What will be expected of you when you do? And what can you then expect from your colleagues? Will it be safe? And which capabilities will you need to assume leadership in a particular phase of the project?
The answer to these questions varies from organisation to organisation, and depends on time and situation. We therefore put a lot of attention on explicating leadership early on in the process. Everybody should be using the same vocabulary when speaking about leadership. Also when you don’t actually lead change, you should be versed in the vocabulary on leadership in your organisation.
Again, our approach focused on facilitating a common dialogue. First, we used open questions to purge the images about leadership in the organisation. Various ideas about who could be a leader and when came to the surface. Then we addressed whether leadership was connected to an individual, or to a role or function, or whether it could also be a characteristic of a group. We discussed when leadership would be needed, and what it would then consist of. Under which circumstances could you claim leadership on an issue, what would be prerequisites and what would be expected of you? And for those who extend the leadership role to you: what will be expected of them?
The most important thing was that we entered the conversation on leadership with an open view, not with a preconceived notion or model. The crux was to use the sessions to form a common understanding, a common language spoken by everyone in the organisation, about leadership. To make clear who could claim leadership under which conditions, and what expectations and responsibilities would be both for those who claim leadership as for those who extend it. All this would be specific for this organisation. The aim was not to have the definitive notebook for leadership, but rather to develop a way to communicate about leadership so that it could grow over time.