Thoughts on Leadership: Leading through Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical Monday morning WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then traveled to Virginia. On Wednesday, I spent the day with the team at Long & Foster, including filming “The CEO Is In The House” with Long & Foster President and CEO Jeff Detwiler and Johnnie Johnson, former All-Pro defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams, president/CEO of World Class Coaches and author of “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for All.” Now I’m traveling home, writing this post to you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the adage that there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. I believe there’s a fourth kind of person and that’s the person who anticipates what’s coming and acts before anyone else does.

Change is inevitable. It’s a given. Once we accept that as fact it becomes how we anticipate the change that makes the difference between stagnation (or worse) and success. In technical terms, it’s about change management, or the preparation of and planning for necessary changes that ensure sustainable growth within an organization.

I’ve recently listened to Harvard Business Review’s “10 Must Reads on Change Management,” which includes an iconic piece from Harvard Business School professor and renowned change expert Dr. John Kotter, who details eight steps for leading change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  4. Enlist a volunteer army
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

The eight steps Dr. Kotter outlines are important, especially now as our real estate market and economy are shifting and we must prepare for upcoming changes to combat what’s next.

During COVID, we were quick to adapt. We digitized business practices almost overnight. We implemented health and safety measures. We did what was necessary to work through unprecedented challenges and then, we triumphed. But today, we’re in a new era of change management as a result of our current market correction, and it’s going to impact businesses around the world.

For some context, $800 billion was printed up to bail out insurance companies and banks in 2008. During COVID, the U.S. government printed upwards of $6 trillion; more money was printed in June 2020 than in the entire first 200 years of U.S. history. With rising interest rates and the inflation we’re currently experiencing, it’s as if all the money was released and now it’s going back from where it came – that’s why we call this a market correction.

One important aspect of change management to remember as you implement its tenets into your leadership strategy is this: Change management is intrinsically linked to the culture at your company. You cannot have change without an environment receptive to change. Your team must be ready and willing to accept the changes you bring their way. But a shift in culture for successful change management isn’t about motivational speeches or sudden, arbitrary rules. It’s about putting in place clear processes and systems that create the collaborative, accountable and focused foundation upon which a positive culture can thrive. So, what’s the message? We can’t pretend the economy won’t change. It will. It already has. What we can do is anticipate future changes and use the principles of change management to lead through them and succeed.  

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