Leading Change - It's Not About You

A certain supervisor was assigned to a larger territory as a promotion for the job he had been doing. His biggest challenge was to help the largest flagship restaurant fully develop their concept and start to make headway on service, quality, and revenue.

This store had a staff that was proud of their status. They had a unique concept, the biggest facility, and received lots of attention. Yet they fell short on fully realizing their potential. It was up to him to get them performing at a higher level.

As he entered on his first day, the staff and management already been told what was going on in the company restructuring, he started to reach out to the team. He already had a decent rapport with the managers, but he knew the front line managers and staff would be the key to moving things forward. As he feared, he was met with skepticism and resistance.

It was in talking with one of the key team leaders there that turned things around. Sherri was a very sharp young woman who had a great deal of influence in the team. The supervisor started to chat with her about some things, when Sherri asked point blank, "So what changes are you going to make?" Without hesitating the supervisor replied, "I don't know. What changes would you like to see made?"

In an instant, Sherri lit up and started pouring her heart out. She had great ideas, and an enthusiasm that flowed knowing she had an audience. That supervisor discovered that it didn't matter what he wanted to do; all that mattered to Sherri was fixing what she saw were the issues, and hearing her solutions.

It was at that moment that the supervisor realized:

Change may begin with me.  Successful change ends with others.

What sets apart the great leaders of change is they see others as the change agents. It's not up to themselves to make it happen, but to everyone else. It's just their responsibility to get everyone rolling in the right direction.

There were many valuable lessons this young man learned in that quick interaction as well:

  • Interact with everyone. It's such a basic leadership practice that seldom gets off the ground. People want to know who they're working for, and what to expect. Only by face to face interaction will those anxious moments be put to rest.
  • Value their input. Sherri was undoubtedly dismissed in her previous attempts to give her opinion. Staff know what is going on in some ways much more keenly than those they report to. They see the way to address service and quality issues that go beyond the financials and the corporate initiatives. Ask, and be ready to listen.
  • Put it out there that you don't have all the answers. While this supervisor knew conceptually what needed to be done, he never worked first hand in the execution. He was not the expert, but he realized that the team there was. When he admitted he didn't know what to change, he let down his guard and broke down the walls that the staff put up in their defense. There became an openness and reliability that enabled them to interact and work together.
  • Make everyone know you're on the same team. In admitting he didn't have the answers, he also told Sherri, and everyone else, that he needed their help. The entire crew knew that things needed improvement, but they weren't ready for someone else to make them change. When they realized he had the same common goals, they started to feel a sense of empowerment that strengthened their passion and removed the defensiveness.
  • Learn when to pull back. This supervisor had a general plan on what to change. But he was willing to pull it back a bit when pressed for answer. Once he learned that there were other great solutions, he then dovetailed their ideas into his and was able to make sweeping changes that had solid buy-in from the team.

Many of Sherri's ideas came to fruition there, and she eventually rose into a successful management role in her own right. The team over time became a strong operation and excelled in service to the point of being duplicated in the marketplace and receiving reviews in trade journals.

Had this young man plowed through his own ways, the team would not have succeeded. He would have had a frustrating time in his new role. And Sherri may not have moved up in the company. He learned what renowned chef Mario Batali states:

"One of the most important leadership lessons is realizing you're not the most intelligent person in the room at all times."

How have you generated change by making others central to the process? We'd love to hear the stories!



(image courtesy www.dict.space.4goo.net)

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