What Great Leaders Do and What We Can Learn from It

How do leaders and managers differ? 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. 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.

Here are three strategies for leadership through change that have worked for five successful leaders, and that we can all learn from:

They 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.

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.