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“Stand Up And Deliver” Leadership For Change

Leaders must stand up and deliver if their companies are to be successful at organizational change. While the idea of “standing up and delivering” might be a no-brainer, the truth of the matter in our 30 years of experience is that leaders frequently are MIA (missing in action) in some key ways when big changes are required for their organizations.

Missing in action might not mean “uncommitted” to the change needed in their organization. Commitment is expressed by many leaders when they launch a change and when they sign the purchase orders for the products and services needed for the change. But commitment in this launch and resources sense is just not enough to meet the needs of organization members whose job it is to execute the change.

Perhaps the best place to turn for an explanation of what we mean by stand and deliver is to our metaphor that we have used in the past to illustrate big change. We have successfully used the “theatre company” metaphor for more than a decade to explain and illustrate key points about leading organizational change.

The metaphor goes like this. An organization can be looked at as a theatre company putting on a continuous stream of performances of a play. Think about it, we get up in the morning, dress in our work costumes, drive to the company (the theatre), walk to our office (the set), and set about acting in our role to meet the objectives (script) of the company. Hopefully, some customers (our audience) applaud during our day’s performance…so that we can go home at night to remove our costumes and be the real “us” again.

Organizational change, then, is like a theatre company that decides to “change their play” because they are beginning to see empty seats in their daily performances. In the theatre business, leadership in the changing of a play comes from the producer (the guy with the money and the idea for the new play) and the director (the gal with the creative vision form bringing the new play to life on the stage).

Using our metaphor, stand up and deliver leadership for organizational change comes when the CEO and her leadership team become both the producers and directors of their changed organizational play. The leadership problem that we most often see is the CEO being a producer only…and not providing the visible, hands-on leadership that would be supplied by a director.

Stand up and deliver means to be there to direct the transition to the new play…not just supplying the resources and the germ of the new idea and then delegating the direction to others.

Standing up and delivering as a director means to develop a personal vision of the organization as it will need to work after the change, to communicate that vision of the new organizational play and then to work iteratively with the employees as they develop their own roles in response to the vision. The seasoned director knows that it is the interaction between his vision and the actor’s development of their roles that produces the final play.

In short, companies in big change need stand up and deliver leadership…from both a producer and director point of view. Ok, Mr. CEO…it’s “Show Time!”

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Dutch Holland is principal and founder of Holland & Davis, specializing in helping clients implement change.