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The Rise of Progress Leadership

The business term “change management” has been around for a while. The term relates to initiating significant change within an organization’s processes.

by Dean Lindsay
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This change can include anything from altering work culture, to embracing diversity, to modifying an individual’s work tasks, to increasing company morale and loyalty. The goal of initiating significant change is solid, but where is the passion?

The problem with the term “change management” is that no one really wants to change or plans to change. We desire and plan to progress. We want managers to manage our change. We want leaders to lead our progress.

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Let’s call initiating significant change what it truly is (or should be): Progress leadership. In a time of continual transformation, committed leaders—progress agents—should focus on inspiring the progress, not apologizing for the change. Progress agents don’t just tell people what to do. Progress agents include others in the progress as well as the process.

Labs are most successful at initiating significant change when the reasons to act connect personally with the individual employees making the alteration in behavior. If the reasons don’t connect with the individual, then the planned progress will be viewed as merely change and will be resisted. Team members may still physically clock in but have often mentally checked out.

Dale Carnegie wrote his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People way back in 1936, and its wisdom is no less true or vibrantly powerful today. The book is packed with insight on leading and building strong relationships by lifting people up, making them feel good, and “spurring people on to success.” Carnegie encourages us to: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests, respect others’ opinions, try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view, and try to make the other person happy about doing the things you suggest. In other words, genuinely care about people and their feelings.

Intense focus on feelings in a time of transformation is often described as the human side of change management. This always gives me pause. The “human side” of business— what other side is there? Some might say the company side.

So then, the company and the humans are on different sides? That’s the problem right there. Organizations are formed by people (humans) partnering to get their wants and needs met by helping other people (humans) get their wants and needs met. Leaders who do not take the individual into account and do not plan for the human side of progress often find themselves scratching their heads about where their plans went wrong.

It takes more than the title of supervisor, manager, or change agent to lead people in the direction of progress. We all want to be in relationships with people, as well as partner with organizations that bring progress to our lives.

Without personal commitment to execute, new organizational plans and initiatives often fail. Execution is assured by establishing clear links between operations, strategy, and team members. Progress leadership means working to understand and communicate how team members’ personal goals can dovetail with the organization’s goals and thus create true commitment that gets team members to act—because they want to, not because they have to. Progress leadership means striving to help others find meaning in their work.

Goodbye, change management. Hello, progress leadership!

LABCAST: Be sure to attend Dean Lindsay’s Lab Manager Academy webinar, “The Progress
Challenge: Working and Winning in a World of Change” on Oct. 7, or afterward
at to watch the archived video.