Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

April 2000
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A Model of Planned Change – Part 4

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

The fourth stage of the eight-stage model of planned change that John Kotter presents in “Leading Change” is:

4. Communicate the change vision widely.

The real transforming power of vision is unleashed when most of an organization’s constituents share a common understanding of its goals and direction. Therefore, leaders must use every means possible to communicate widely the vision and strategy. Change is impossible unless a majority of people in the organization are involved and willing to help, often to the point of personal sacrifice.

The key elements in the effective communication of vision are:

1. Simplicity. All profession-specific jargon must be eliminated. Simple, concise and clear communication is most potent.

2. Metaphor, analogy and example. Vision should be imaginative. Colorful and picturesque language can communicate complex ideas quickly, effectively and memorably. Symbols can be easily understood and remembered. Rather than relying on complicated and abstract descriptions, wise leaders will follow the extensive examples of Jesus and the biblical writers and develop symbols that express the heart of their vision.

3. Multiple forums. Vision is usually communicated most effectively when many different vehicles are used: large group meetings, small group discussions, memos, brochures, flyers, emails, posters, informal one-on-one talks. When the same message comes at people from many different directions, it stands a better chance of being heard and remembered, on both intellectual and emotional levels.

4. Repetition. People’s minds are so cluttered that any communication has to fight hundreds of other ideas for attention. One time is never enough. Leaders should communicate about change at least 10 times more than they think necessary.

5. Leadership by example. When the leaders act out the vision, many troublesome questions about credibility tend to evaporate. On the other hand, nothing undermines the communication of a change vision more than behaviors on the part of key players that appear to be inconsistent with the vision.

6. Explanation of seeming inconsistencies. If mixed signals cannot be eliminated, they should be explained, simply and honestly.

7. Listen and be listened to. The communication of vision is not a one-way broadcast. In successful change efforts, communication always becomes two-way. Feedback should be solicited and any errors that are exposed in the change process eliminated. Moreover, people will usually embrace a new vision only after wrestling with it. Wrestling means asking questions, challenging, arguing and praying together. Of course, in this dialogue the leaders may discover that their vision needs to be adjusted or even entirely reformulated. However, in the end, swallowing their pride and reworking the vision is far more productive than charging off in the wrong direction – or in a direction others won’t follow.

The fifth stage of implementing change is to empower constituents for broad-based action on the vision. The next Leadership Letter will discuss that stage.

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