Change Leadership: A Collective Endeavour

We all know that it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow. But distinguishing effects and causes within organisations is not always so straightforward.

Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight

When leading change it’s important to understand the factors that are shaping your reality, and then to work out how you can influence these. Just as it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow, what if it’s not the disenchanted staff that create a culture of apathy? What if it’s not poor processes that reduce our focus on quality? What if it’s not underfunding that reduces the creative ambition of our work?

In my role at people make it work, I help organisations change and develop. Often this means helping them shift focus from the waving tree to the prevailing wind. From the effect – such as insufficient income – to a cause such as insufficient relevance for audiences and funders. Or from insufficient time to think and devise new approaches, to the root cause: the habitual prioritisation of ‘urgent’ tasks over important analysis.

Re-orienting organisations

Our role as leaders is often to re-orientate our organisations towards the causes of success, moving people’s attention away from the immediate experience to create strategy that changes the conditions and secures a sustainable future.

Alongside distinguishing cause from effect, we also need to identify what we can do to make a difference – to find our agency. Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight, but to understand how we personally influence the conditions affecting our organisations.

Perhaps it’s time we moved from metaphor to reality. Our job as change leaders isn’t to see what other people should be doing differently and loudly demand that. Rather it is to understand the ways our own leadership can make change inevitable. And then do that. Even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard). Change leadership is making personal change so that organisational changes inevitably follow. We are the wind.

A collective endeavour

Change leadership isn’t a solitary affair – it’s often a collective endeavour. Our organisations are interconnected; our audiences make up our communities; and the conditions needed for one of us to thrive will often boost us all.

So let’s make these resolutions…

  • I will distinguish between cause and effect and focus on causes (wind not tree).
  • I will be a positive influence that makes change inevitable (a beneficial breeze).
  • I will find agency, identifying my own change in leadership before calling for change from others (be the change).
  • I will connect with fellow leaders to make these commitments together, creating change in our ecology (create a cohort).

Our Change Creation programmes are two-year long action orientated development programmes for leaders in arts and cultural organisations where we work together to lead and embed change. Our last programme kicked off in November 2019, and the next one will start in September 2020. Together we’re learning what true change leadership means while transforming our organisations and building supportive communities of leadership nationwide.

Richard Watts, CEO / Founder – people make it work. Co-Director – Change Creation Programme.