I loved interviewing Kylie Bishop, Group Executive People & Culture, Medibank a few years ago for my book Influence From the Inside Out, so I was thrilled when she said yes to another catch up. Kylie’s a phenomenal leader whose leadership narrative is continually evolving to make an even bigger impact – inside and outside of Medibank. As one of the top HR executives in the country, I was particularly keen to glean her insights on change leadership.
If people today are looking for purpose beyond their day to day tasks, and research tells us that people are already motivated to do great work¹, how can leaders lead change in a way that empowers others?
Change models inform the change process but they don’t teach leaders how to lead.
Use these four leadership anchors to help guide how you show up and bring others with you, as you lead people through change.
1. Define your value
The starting point to empowering others is to define your value.
Kylie said “I think a lot of the time leaders need to work out where their value is, or where it’s going to be, so they truly feel comfortable in empowering others to do the work. On one hand we want our people to step up, but we also need to answer for ourselves, ‘what does that mean for me’?”.
She went on to say “You need to make sure where you spend your time is not self-serving, and if it is, then that’s an insecurity you need to call out and sit with for a little bit and then recalibrate the value you’re bringing to the projects, team or whatever it might be”.
Leaders need to have this value conversation with themselves before they work out how they’re going to champion others.
2. Make it about the person, not the task
Kylie believes that empowering someone begins with letting them know “I’ve got your back, I believe in you, and I think you can do this. And it’s okay if there are some bumps along the way”.
Sharing this message before you talk about the work is important. “The empowering piece”, Kylie said, “then comes through you deciding together how things will work, the expectations you have of each other, and the milestones and check-ins along the way”. The conversation should be co-created rather than someone getting told how things need to go. “The informal check-ins are really important because it’s just not about the tasks, it’s also about asking ‘How are you going?’” she said.
3. Create safety first
This anchor acknowledges that leaders have often had the benefit of time to get across the change and understand it. The trap leaders then fall into is to move too quickly to the tasks of change, expecting that people will come along with them.
“One thing I learnt from leading a change project was acknowledging that while I was excited to get to the core of what the project was about, what we needed to focus on first was what the change meant for others. People will ask practical questions, for example ‘When I move, where will I put my breakfast cereal?’, but what underpins these sorts of questions is insecurity and fear”.
Kylie went on to say “You can’t get to some of the other higher order conversations, even if you want to, if you don’t address the fear first. People might nod their heads but they’re not actually engaged, because they’re still back at what they fear most. You’ve got to stay in the pragmatic’s about what people are scared of, and if you can do that, you’ll get to the change piece a lot quicker”.
4. Read the ques around you to sequence tasks
The challenge of leadership isn’t so much about knowing what to do, rather than knowing when to do it – Kylie Bishop.
Kylie said “I observe people hellbent on what we need to do, and often they are 100% right. Yet they don’t stop to ask themselves ‘If I do that now, how is that going to impact other things?’. While there might be a logical clear path of next steps or boxes to tick, if you’re missing the environmental scan which is about reading the cues, then you’re likely to get the sequencing wrong and not get the followership you want”.
The art of leadership is about pausing and asking, “Is this the right time for me to do this now”? – Kylie Bishop
Which one of these leadership anchors can you strengthen within your leadership to help you empower people through change? I’d love to know.