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Leading Change from the Inside Out

When leaders think of reinventing themselves they start with shifting the way they think and feel. Sometimes this happens unwillingly, when something earth shattering happens in their lives. At other times they are exposed to a different way of thinking, one that their background prepared them to resonate with. Regardless the cause, these leaders experience a paradigm shift that changes their filters for viewing the world. When a deep, individual internal shift happens, these introspective leaders can make changes in how they interact, in what they say, and how they do what they do. Sometimes the paradigm shift is a healthy one that leads to a more cohesive team. Authentic team change can happen when a similar shift occurs within the team. As you can imagine, it is much more difficult when a number of persons want to make the type of internal shift necessary for authentic team transformation. When critical mass happens that starts with the leader, the team can transform itself. It is essential for the team leader to buy into and understand the change because without the leader, the old culture will prevail. Especially if the old way of doing things serves an important purpose for both the leader and team. If this is the case, the new vision for the team will be resisted using a menu of disparaging strategies. So why is transforming the team from the inside out important? There are multiple reasons, firstly, when change doesn’t happen at a deep enough level, the team cannot achieve real change and failed change is costly. When change is successful, a team is better positioned to achieve higher performance. In some cases this is achieved through reinforced trust and improved creativity. Another reason why change from the inside out is important is because team agility has become increasingly necessary as a core team competency. The first step toward achieving inside-out change is for leaders to acknowledge and work on closing their own behavioural and leadership gaps. This step applies to both formal and informal leaders because they have the potential to lead or inhibit change. Depending on their capacity and willingness to grasp the letter and the spirit of the proposed change, real transformation can occur. When leaders shift intrinsically, if the shift is authentic and it closes behavioural gaps, leaders can position themselves to lead team transformation differently. Oftentimes managers have a blind spot when it comes to their own weaknesses so different types of assessments can provide insights, so can coaching and training. It all depends on the self-awareness of the individual leader. Once leaders shift internally, they can support the shift of the entire team. When it comes to building your team from the inside out, it is important to envision the future state of the team, and what type of development each person needs so you can plan for real change. This also requires taking a deeper look at the quality of the relationships and creating customized developmental solutions for each team member. Planning developmental opportunities is not enough, it is also important to ensure team members are open to embracing proposed changes beyond an obligatory appearance of commitment. This requires both head and heart synchronization. This means buy-in is necessary at both the head and heart levels so in order to gain buy-in, leaders need to be able to perceive what is in the change for the members of the team. There needs to be an alignment at the level of team values. When sufficient leaders buy into the letter and spirit of a proposed change, the next steps are ones that can be overlooked by some change-makers. The first of these potentially overlooked steps is for leaders to facilitate strengthening team trust if it doesn’t already exist. Then leader/s need to envision the new team state and culture necessary for successful change. To improve the odds for team member buy-in, the vision should be arrived at as part of a collaborative effort, engaging as many members of the team as possible. Team visualization of the desired change is not enough, in order for them to buy-in, team members need to want to make the changes, then understand which of their behaviors they need to change and how they will go about making meaningful changes, together. Once team members buy-into change, and relationships are healthy ones based on some semblance of trust, then internal team building can better position the team for execution of its plans and interfacing with the external environment. Change from the inside-out becomes infinitely more difficult when there is protracted resistance to or a lack of understanding of the intended changes. Some change leaders plough through this, determined to make the changes happen because the timeline is more important to adhere to than ensuring quality execution that can lead to sustained and successful change. After developing self-awareness and demonstrating other-aware behaviours, team members become an extension of the leader while at the same time maintaining their individuality. When a team transforms itself from the inside-out it interfaces with other teams and stakeholders in a different way because they can operate based on shared core values and goals. They make decisions differently and they are not susceptible to group think. Each team member is encouraged to provide a unique perspective and success is a long-term value. Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.

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