Which leadership style is best for change management 

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Some traditional leaders care about status, money and power. Their mindset is very much, “What do I need to do?” – as if it’s their job to know the answer to everything. But as we discussed during our most recent webinar, this idea of a leader being ‘the hero’ means we set people up to compete rather than collaborate. And when we expect them to have all the answers, it drives top-down leadership.

But consider that 4 in 5 employees cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as a reason for quitting their job.

When people turn up to work, they want to do the best job they possibly can and be recognised for their skill and effort. Given we are all capable and all culpable, is it time to change the way we approach leadership?

The CIPD defines leadership as “the process of influencing people to achieve a common goal”. If we buy-in to this way of thinking, it means our role is to inspire, motivate and empower people so they’re able to do their best work.

When to use servant leadership

Where traditional leaders focus on how they can improve the company’s position within the market, servant leaders focus on how they can support their people and enable them to achieve the organisation’s goals. This style of leadership recognises success and encourages personal growth, which is why people with servant leaders are 33% more likely to stay in their jobs.

How servant leadership works

A servant leader’s main role is simply to get out of the way! You set out ‘what’ needs to happen and ‘why’, and then let your people loose to figure out ‘how’ to do it.

Servant leaders are very skilled with:

  • Awareness – both of themselves and their people.
  • How to conceptualise and communicate using a vivid vision.
  • Persuade others to use their initiative by practicing stewardship.

We use this model with our clients when we create a ‘Glass Tube’. We take people from across the business and make them responsible for solving a complex business challenge. We pair them 1-to-1 with our consultants, who mentor them, work together solving real problems, share their experience and transfer their knowledge so our client’s team is capable of continuing change once we’ve exited the business.

Employees love it because they’ve never worked in this way before. And it works because you create a micro-culture that contains a team of highly energised, empowered employees – as a leader all you need to do is scale this feeling and remove any barriers to the team’s success.

Servant leadership is the natural evolution from traditional management because it encourages you to adopt a way to operate, think and work where you balance results and relationships.

The best way to start the journey towards servant leadership is to take a step towards the model of intent-based leadership. This staged approach makes employees accountable and proactive, so they feel confident to step out and do what is necessary, rather than simply follow orders.

When to use intent based leadership

Intent-based leaders focus on how to create an environment where people feel able to share their ideas and contribute, so they feel valued, take responsibility and are encouraged to reach their full potential. It’s a concept developed by David Marquet, a captain on board the USS Nuclear Submarine Santa Fe.

The big lesson he learned onboard the ship was that his crew were trained to consult him and follow his exact orders – even if they knew it was wrong and could have catastrophic consequences. He vowed to ‘turn the ship around’ with intent-based leadership. Today, even after his departure, the ship continues to promote more officers than any other submarine


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How intent-based leadership works

You need to practice empowerment. Rather than have people seek permission, encourage them to use the phrase, “I intend to…”. It’s a subtle change with a massive impact because it allows you to retain control and coach the people under your command.

Intent-based leaders are very skilled with:

  • How to establish the boundaries. 
  • Encourage people to think, rather than command action.
  • Be humble and accept that great ideas can come from anywhere.

The best thing you can do to evolve into an intent-based leader is to turn the language around and use clarification questions, such as:

  • “Have you checked X, Y, Z?”
  • “What else have you tried?”
  • “What do we need to be wary of?”


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Written by Adrian Stalham
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