Navigating and Leading Change in the Workplace

Are you good at leading change? In this blog, we’ll dive into insights from Dr. Karuna Ramanathan, a former naval warship captain turned change consultant. With thirty years of experience guiding leaders and organisations through change, Dr. Ramanathan shares his expertise in a simple way.

Dr. Ramanathan, known for his leadership in the Singapore Armed Forces, provides practical wisdom in his book, “Navigating The Seas of Change,” published in 2020. It serves as a valuable guide for those navigating organisational transformation.

Business people in a meeting - Leading Change

Why is change tough for leaders?

Leaders often struggle with change because it disrupts established habits. As humans, we like consistency and patterns, and facing unfamiliar conditions can be overwhelming. New leaders may resist change, seeking comfort in what they know.

Embracing change is crucial in today’s world where adaptability is key. Developing the ability to navigate change is essential, especially for leaders working rapidly within organisations. Instead of seeing it as a burden, organisations undergoing transformation should invest in helping their managers embrace change smoothly. This approach ensures that the workforce feels empowered rather than overwhelmed.

Senior leaders often, in the work I’ve done with them for years, they often overestimate their power and their knowledge. Middle managers often underestimate their influence and their information. 

Adaptive and Influential Leadership Instead of Mere Management

Organisations traditionally operate within structured workgroups and hierarchies, focusing on alignment through KPIs and work plans. Adaptive leadership redefines this approach by instilling confidence in working horizontally across the organisation. Now you’re working with your peers, and you’re more confident working with people you don’t control or you don’t write reports on, and you are looking to relate to the person. This shift emphasises skills beyond mere management, focusing on leadership qualities.

Two women talking in the office - Leading Change

Effective leadership involves positively influencing others and encouraging them to contribute beyond their initial expectations. This marks a crucial change in mindset, promoting a more collaborative and influential leadership style.

Here are some important factors to consider:


Pace vs. Flow in Change Management 

Pace is intricately tied to strategic considerations, timelines, board demands, investor expectations, and the urgency associated with mergers and acquisitions. On the other hand, flow pertains to the readiness of individuals to collaborate seamlessly. Alignment between the pace of change and the flow of people is essential for a smoother transition to change. Confident leaders prioritise this alignment, steering away from being controlled by time pressures and focusing on harmonising the pace with the natural flow of their teams.


Capacity, Capability, and Commitment

The three Cs—capacity, capability, and commitment—form the foundation for effective project management and decision-making. Capacity, in essence, revolves around headcount and available resources, introducing a myriad of people-related considerations. This is where empathy plays a crucial role, viewing individuals not merely as human resources but as capable contributors with their unique circumstances and distractions.

Capability, on the other hand, delves into the technical aspects. Leaders are taught to identify and address technical gaps to avoid issues that may compromise resources in the long run. Finally, managers are encouraged to question and assess commitment levels from the outset, preventing potential roadblocks later on.


Mind Shifts Instead of Mindset

Mindset and mental models are often complex concepts, but breaking them down involves exploring mind shifts. Essentially, mind shift is about choosing how to think, act, and feel in challenging situations. Many managers embrace this approach, recognising their discomfort in certain areas, choosing a different perspective, and encouraging themselves to welcome the incoming shift. Instead of the results, the emphasis is on the effort they put in and ensuring it’s visible to others—a more respectful and effective measure of progress.


Have you tried this app: The Change Leader


The Role of Empathy in Leading Change

Empathy is a crucial leadership practice that facilitates change. It involves approaching situations with curiosity, creating connections, and focusing on human interaction. For instance, arriving early for meetings, engaging with everyone, and starting with small talk before diving into the agenda can build relationships. You could say that around 30% of leadership is largely contextual, highlighting the importance of reading situations and finding balance.

Karuna also suggests a kinesthetic activity to foster empathy among leaders, especially the younger ones. Simply take off your shoes—whether in your cubicle, during meetings, or at lunch. This physical act grounds you, signaling to the brain the need for awareness. Additionally, observing others’ footwear choices becomes a conversation starter, allowing you to delve into personal perspectives and stories. This not only enhances connection and relationship-building but also lays the foundation for effective collaboration on change initiatives. 

Let us know your insights if you plan to try this one out.


Confident Leadership is A Choice

Transforming leadership involves challenging common misconceptions and fostering confidence among leaders. By respecting people, understanding context, and controlling the pace of change, leaders can guide their teams toward better outcomes. 

If you want more insights on Navigating and Leading Change in the Workplace, you can listen to the full episode on Culture of Leadership podcast

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