A long time ago in a galaxy far far away Blaire Palmer had the flame of passion for her job snuffed out by a poor leader.
Today Palmer is an author and expert on change management leadership. “The power to keep a passion alive or kill it is huge,” Palmer said at the Northumbrian Water innovation summit, Horizon’s parent company Icon Business Media collaborated with. “I wanted to discover how we create organisations where people thrive,” she told the 350 delegates of her passion for ensuring organisations don’t make the same mistake as happened to her initial career.
“In every story there is a hero,” Palmer said of how leadership resembles the Star Wars film of 1978. “There is a catalyst event that propels people into an adventure and our hero finds themselves in the belly of the whale (or a Death Star trash compactor in the case of the George Lucas film loved by NWG’s CIO).” Palmer explains the story telling technique used by Lucas of an ordinary person flung into an adventure, finding themselves in uncomfortable places, forming alliances with friends in the same position, realising the capabilities they have, but never realised they had and then overcoming a great challenge before returning to a level of normality, but of course everything has changed. This is the story of Luke Skywalker and the story of what employees in organisations under-going change have to live through.
Palmer impresses on the need to understand that change is hard for everyone in the organisation and that dealt with poorly change doesn’t feel like an adventure and instead just snuffs out the passion as happened to Palmer.
“The hero’s journey is the story of challenge and it is the story of collaboration, that is the journey of change,” Palmer said.
“Leadership is all about change and change is painful and change requires leadership. The first thing you have to have is trust. Levels of trust in authority figures are at an all time low. Just 18% of people trust their boss to tell them the truth.
“You cannot get people to come on a journey because you are the boss, they must trust you and know what you stand for and then you have to stand for your beliefs. You will have to compromise, but you have to put what you stand for on the table.” And to do all of this, Palmer says leaders must be the first to change. “If they cannot see you change, why would they go through it?
“You have to be willing to go though the change yourself and I believe change has to be started at the top,” Palmer says. Listening is one of the skills leaders must enhance in order to take their organisations on the change adventure Palmer says: “I see people with something on their minds and they are not going to tell you. Well you really really listen to them as the senior people in the organisation. If people are telling you what you want to hear that is dangerous, you need a few mavericks in the organisation. Often the people most resistant to change understand the scale of what has to happen and that is why they are frightened. Those that agree with you have not looked the change in the eye. Don’t judge too early, listen to the things that you really need to hear,” Palmer says.
“Change is an emotional journey and people have to commit their heart to it.” Palmer stressed the importance of communicating and changing with the team because of the change in modern culture.
“The deal used to be based on authority,” she said of the old job and a pension relationship. “We don’t have that today, the change is so much more complex, so as a leader you need to bring people together. If you need passion you can’t get that with a carrot and a stick”