What Great Leaders Do and What We Can Learn from It


How do leaders and managers differ? Great Leaders know how to Hit the Change Button. Managers oftentimes struggle with exactly that. While managers are excellent at managing procedures, leaders excel in knowing how to initiate change, how to lead through change and how to grow through change in the face of a competitive market and a rapidly changing world.

Table of Contents

The Importance of Great Leaders During Times of Change

The greater the change, the greater the need for powerful leadership, that knows how to motivate and engage through change, and knows how to deal with people’s fears and resistance to change in order to take their team and their organization from vision to transformation.

A recent study by Google listed several qualities needed for leaders these days. Among those, hard skills came in last, while soft skills scored the highest. Among those were emotional intelligence, communication skills, compassion and more.

According to Harvard Business Review, the most successful leaders are the ones that have mastered soft skills.
Commonly known as “people” or interpersonal skills, soft skills like negotiating, building morale, and maintaining relationships are key to a leader’s success.

Yes, automation gradually takes over, but emotional intelligence has no substitution.

In fact, LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner has recently said that soft skills are more important than knowing how to code in today’s job environment. A recent study by the public opinion company The Harris Poll even found that when leaders can’t effectively communicate with their employees or help them accomplish their career goals, workers choose to either disengage, or leave.

Three Strategies for Leadership Through Change 


Great Leaders Highlight Teamwork

In the last decade, Google has spent millions of dollars on measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives – from which traits the best managers share to how often particular people eat together. The tech giant was determined to find out how to compile ‘the perfect team’.

The company’s executives worked hard on finding the perfect mix of individuals necessary to form a stellar team. They believed that building good teams meant combining the best people. But it wasn’t that simple. In 2012 Google ran a project known as Project Aristotle. It took several years and included interviews with hundreds of employees. They analyzed data about the people on more than 100 active teams at the company.

“We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’ – Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division.

Google’s intense data collection led to the same conclusions that good managers have always known: In the best teams, members show sensitivity, and most importantly, listen to one another.

Matt Sakaguchi, a midlevel manager at Google, was keen to put Project Aristotle’s findings into practice. He took his team off-site to open up about his cancer diagnosis. Although initially silent, his colleagues then began sharing their own personal stories.

At the heart of Sakaguchi’s strategy, and Google’s findings is the concept of “psychological safety” – a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Google now describes psychological safety as the most important factor in building a successful team. Google ended up highlighting what leaders in the business world have known for a while: the best teams are mindful that all members should contribute to the conversation equally, and respect one another’s emotions. It has less to do with who is in a team, and more with how the members interact with one another.

They Highlight Communication

Founder and CEO of Credit Karma, Kenneth Lin operates with an open door policy which he calls a “keystone for good company communication.” This is important as the company grows and distances itself with its many layers. 
“I want new employees to feel like this is a mission we’re all in together. An open-door policy sets the tone for this. Whenever I’m in my office and available, I encourage anyone to come by and share their thoughts about how they feel Credit Karma is doing,” says Lin.

The strategy helps loop him in to what Credit Karma employees are talking about, which increases morale and lets employees know that he’s a part of the team.

They Highlight Motivation

Dreamworks Animation implements a number of different strategies that adhere to the many varied inputs of its individual employees, including holding a ‘creative update’ every 18 months where ‘blueprints’ (drawings/images/clips) of animations are presented to head management.

By doing this, instantly each input is given value and recognition, allowing employees to find meaning and success in their efforts at work. This strategy also ties in with “DreamTalks” – team meetings that are broadcasted to other HQ’s globally as well as including special guests such as the director of Titanic & Avatar – James Cameron.

“As DreamWorks has grown and grown in terms of the size of the workforce, we very much didn’t want to lose that characteristic where people feel like individuals and they don’t feel like they’re part of a large corporate machine”.(DreamWorks head of HR Dan Satterthwaite – source: workforce.com)

DreamWorks further provides non-monetary incentives and physical workplace bonuses to its employees such as yoga & kickboxing classes; tying them in with engagement tactics that provide stress relief and physical and mental revival. These incentives are not seen as ‘distractions’, but rather as perks of a demanding job where employees can get easily overworked and/or lose the motivation to provide constant creative output.

The company also hosts Monday Night movie screenings that allow for its workforce to relax and bond on greater levels outside of daily work activities. By implementing such strategies, Dreamworks has successfully developed and promoted a culture where each individual feels welcomed and part of the team – an achievement which a vast majority of modern companies struggle to obtain.

Fresh juice trucks visit the Californian studio HQ regularly; and employees are given stipends they can use to personalize their work stations. Parties are frequently held when large projects are completed; encouraging each individual employee to share the work they have achieved and congratulate each other.

Dreamwork’s success therefore has been the result of a combination of the strategies and incentives mentioned above, all of which foster an engaged workplace culture allowing individual employees to feel valued and let their creativity thrive. In the modern business landscape; regardless of industry, more and more companies are taking the ‘think outside the box’ approach to enable their individual employees to be enthusiastic, innovative and productive when it comes to completing challenging business tasks.

5 Most Important Leadership Skills

Don’t Just Articulate Your Thoughts. Learn to Carefully Listen Too

Give the speaker your undivided attention, take notes, reserve judgment, and be open to opinions.

Learn to Say NO Without Feeling Bad About It

This may seem counterintuitive to you but knowing how to say no to people is a mark of good communication.
Empathize with people when saying no to let them know you understand the situation, explain your reasoning for saying no, and end the conversation on a positive note by offering another way to help. 

Work Towards Win-Win Solutions

Leaders that have good negotiation skills, know how to find solutions that work for everyone.
Look at the situation through the other person’s eyes, be prepared to offer several options, show that you’ve heard and understood the other side. Your general tone should be that of brainstorming solutions.

Learn How to Handle Those Difficult Team Members

Tackle the problem as soon as possible instead of waiting to deal with it, implement a plan for correcting the behavior or attitude, and follow up daily to ensure the positive change is permanent. Avoid judgement. It is not your place to judge. See how you can help the difficult team member get on track and thrive. What you may perceive as difficult could also be a person in distress that needs help and clear boundaries.

Lead Change with Confidence

If you are experiencing a lot of organization change, your soft skills are needed now more than ever. Support your team. Be clear. Be attentive. Train yourself in leading (and thriving!) through change.

And most importantly- set a personal example by leading with adaptability, compassion, clear boundaries, and attention to your people skills. Be aware, be mindful and be focused on your dynamics with your team members. Look into the future with optimism, clarity of purpose and confidence. Your people will follow, and so will your success.

Everyone reacts to change differently

Change can be experienced in different ways. It can be intimidating, it can be exciting, it can be tiring, and sometimes all of these combined. Leaders of organizations, teams, projects, departments, and functions are in a unique and powerful position. These are the leaders who must not only be aligned with the vision for change but also translate it, navigate the emotions of change and transition, and influence change agents to generate alignment and commitment for the change effort to be successful.

Awareness to the impact of change on the individual, team and organization level, as well as an understanding of how our mind reacts to change, reward and a sense of perceived value, is critical for successful engagement through change, from vision to transformation and success.

Picture of Dr. Michelle Rozen
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

Follow Dr. Michelle Rozen on LinkedIn
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Check Dr. Michelle's Availability

Play Video