In the past, I have shared insights about the most critical ingredients in managing change and achieving successful outcomes and results. This involves adopting a structured transition approach that ensures all employees impacted by the change align, buy-in and adapts to it. The key ingredient for change that cannot be overemphasised or ignored is leadership.

A structured change approach without strong and continued leadership engagement and ownership will yield little to no results. Solid project management methodology without strong leadership will only move the change along in a strenuous fashion and not achieve much.  In reality, the absence of solid leadership, neither project nor change will result in a positive outcome. After all, successful transformation is said to be 90% leadership.

According to Prosci®, the number one contributor to change success or failure is leadership. The research shows that there is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of the leader in driving the change and the ability to meet or attain the desired objective.  The research also found that the leader’s effectiveness has a direct impact on whether the project meets its objectives and how well it does so. Projects with extremely effective leaders are three times more likely to achieve and exceed objectives than those with ineffective leaders.

I have had the privilege of working with a number of leaders on various change projects and therefore had the opportunity to witness first-hand, the role effective leadership plays in delivering a successful outcome. So what qualities did these leaders exhibit that made them successful? Let’s look at several key ones.

To begin with, the more successful leaders quickly established a vision for change and were clear on the desired end results or outcomes. They worked towards establishing commitment by sharing the vision and demonstrating how the change links to the organisation’s strategy and goals. At every opportunity, the leader willingly shared the vision for the future,  as they demonstrated ownership and commitment from the onset and throughout the life of the project. They were intentional about creating enthusiasm around the change.

Next, successful change leaders were clear about the process from the start and communicated it repeatedly. During project meetings, they set clear expectations and held the team accountable for the agreed results. They regularly monitored progress and were quick to remove any obstacles that hindered delivery all the while providing direction when necessary. They were also consistently firm but fair.

Additionally, the most effective leaders do not delegate their leadership role but were visible throughout the implementation of the initiative and were not shy to communicate or hold their managers accountable for assigned tasks and selected paths. This demonstrated commitment and enhanced engagement, therefore, achieving buy-in and the desired outcomes. One leader I know adopted a hands-on approach and demonstrated it well by actively participating in training alongside the staff and spontaneously walking the office corridors to listen to staff views and address their questions. The team saw his dedication and they were inspired to follow and connect to the process as they delivered their best work.

Finally, effective change is spearheaded by a leader who supports teams. For change to stick, positive and negative reinforcement is required because it clarifies the direction of change and the intention to achieve it. Effective leaders were quick to recognise and praise good work publicly and privately and confront resistance to the change tactfully. This helped them inspire greater commitment and understand any underlying issues. This also allowed the team to see the process as fair therefore creating even much greater commitment.

Leading change is not an easy task as it requires great skill and a strong will. Organisations must change course to remain relevant, remain responsive to market demands and remain profitable. Strong leadership in change management, therefore, stands as a critical competency for successful leaders. This skill will help them raise the right people, build a stable environment and create the commitment needed to build strong organisations. Such organisations are able to thrive once the changes to be adopted are accepted and implemented by all.