When people ask what calls me to this work of being a leadership coach and consultant my answer is simple: the power of the human spirit. Time and again, I’ve seen the tremendous impact people create when positively and productively focused, even during impossible, painful situations. They’ve taught me that change, whether desired or undesired, can be transformative. This positive change is driven by individuals and leaders who focus on growth. And the leaders who are best at inspiring growth during change seamlessly move amongst four distinct positions, the Four Cs, if you will: coach, catalyst, communicator, and champion.
In the coach position, leaders excel by asking key questions to support people’s clarity and confidence about their goals, resources, options, and actions. Think of the simple but powerful question: “What do you want?” Connecting people to their emotions and aspirations will inspire them through change. It also helps people take stock of resources and assets they already have in place and explore alternative options for success. These “pull” behaviors, as change leadership research shows us, are far more effective in helping people gain clarity and build resilience than “push” strategies like giving advice.
Leaders skilled in the catalyst position shine the light on incongruencies by assuming positive intent versus shaming with judgement. Through this lens, they identify blind spots, challenge limiting behaviors, encourage different thinking and expand points of view. My colleagues refer to this as “holding the mirror up” to a belief someone has that impedes success, or behaviors that conflict with goals and values. During times of stress, our capacity to think diminishes, making it difficult to tap into what we know. It’s human nature to revert to familiar, sometimes suboptimal ways of operating – something we’re living right now as we reinvent old behaviors while maintaining our values and purpose.
Edward shared a case of alerting project leaders to a gap between their stated diversity goals and the non-diverse staffing of a project: “It alarmed me to see this hiring trend, almost like we were going backwards on the commitments we made. I know these leaders to be well-intentioned and I had to reset my own judgement before talking with them. I shared my observations, then listened to their explanation. After some time, they acknowledged their blind spot and we talked through a plan to come back in line with our values.”
In light of recent racial atrocities, this example is more relevant than ever. Leaders, especially those in a position of privilege, must use their strong voice to call out inequity and to advance behaviors that demand the best of us as human beings. That is a catalyst at work.
Change can be onerous, and it’s easy for teams to find themselves “in the weeds”. Assuming the role of champion helps people raise their heads and raise their game during transformation. From the champion position, leaders acknowledge and recognize progress, including learning from mistakes. Using Edward as an example, the champion role might manifest itself in him calling out positive traction he sees in his organization’s hiring goals. Of course, traction needs to be genuine and backed up with tangible evidence (e.g. metrics, KPI’s, etc.) in order to be truly meaningful. In wearing the champion hat, leaders are able to affirm and give perspective on forward momentum, something people can lose sight of in the midst of change.
One of the most common needs I hear teams raise during change is more communication from leaders; communication on the change’s purpose, benefits, status, and vision forward. Effective communicators go beyond merely providing clarity around change. They acknowledge the human factor by sharing how individuals contribute to its success. They actively engage in two-way communication, which gives people a voice in shaping the change and reveals valuable insight on how to course correct for better results. And, in times when mass communication is necessary, they understand how important it is to connect on a personal level by speaking to and acknowledging their people’s reality and how it is being impacted by change.
Building Capacity Across the Four Cs
My experience is that leaders gravitate to their favorite of the four leadership positions. Each one requires distinct skills and demands specific behaviors which may or may not be in someone’s wheelhouse. The conflict adverse may not like the catalyst position, which requires pushing people’s thinking, while the communicator position calls for leading from the front more consistently. But, great change leaders set aside their discomfort and focus on building capacity in all four, all to inspire growth through change.
Putting Practices into Action:
- Building capacity in the Four Cs starts with self-awareness. Take a moment to ask:
- Which of the Four Cs is your favorite and why?
- What strengths do you bring to each position?
- Where do you need to grow?
- Get feedback from a few people around you to test your self-assessment.