The Science behind Great Leadership

The consequences of not understanding how to successfully implement change programs can be frustrating and have a massive impact on your organisation at large. Decreased morale, high turnover, creation of silos and frustration all heighten and what we like to call ‘change fatigue’ rears its ugly head. Change fatigue is a normal human response which can be defined as an overall sense of apathy or passive resignation toward organisational change (Deliotte). Its impact on a company can be detrimental.  

We worked with one organisation whose change management strategy on the surface appeared flawless. Fabulously mapped out, optimised processes, clearly defined goals and a senior leadership team who were all bought in. They asked for our support after correctly observing that the change was not quite sticking, in fact the morale was at an all time low and in addition their customers were starting to feel the impact of a team which could no longer hide their angst. They were struggling to engage their teams to hop on board, in spite of a pretty robust communication strategy.

When we got in there, we were confronted with team members who were openly criticising the changes that were being made and were often bundled in the kitchen saying “leadership have no idea what it feels like to work here”. We found people holding on tight to workarounds and old systems, in many cases double handling projects because they failed to trust the new process. 
In some instances this was given as an implied directive as managers would say we need to get on board but in the next minute tell them to keep hold of their “manual records or their old system”. We observed meeting after meeting where eyes were rolled, new changes were openly labelled as “never going to work” and members of the management team were actively undermined. Everyone nodded yes in the meeting and then actively disregarded everything the minute they left the room.

Where were they going wrong?

Research suggests that people can be inspired to change, even in the most challenging of circumstances but ONLY when the leadership driving the change can meet their psychological needs. Clearly defined goals, pretty power points and regular business review meetings will serve no purpose if the leadership team fail to recognise how important it is to understand human behaviour throughout that change and adapt their behaviour and tactics in accordance. Power struggles, politics and other emotional reactions are rational responses to change but many fail to understand this because they don’t get under the surface of what is actually going on or rather under the surface of human behaviour and the way people think – the neuroscience. This is why Coaching is so effective especially at times of change. It gets under the skin of the person’s thinking and allows them to create an awareness of their habits so they understand what and how they need to adapt to process that change effectively and in a more healthy way. 

As Coaches, we are trained to understand the basic principles driving this resistance to change. I like to cite Daniel Kahneman’s systems of thinking to my clients as this is a really powerful yet simple analogy to apply when understanding why your teams are perhaps not reacting well to change. In this model there are two systems to the way we think and make decisions. System one is the innate skill that we share with other animals. It is the way we perceive the world around us, recognise objects and perhaps fear things which are out of our comfort zone e.g. climbing a mountain or flying. In this system, we focus on the potential outcomes and our conclusions are pretty rational. At work, this may be that we have a process in place which works perfectly well and people know how to follow it so why change it. When we are thinking in this system we are not thinking about other factors which may be outside of our daily scope e.g. is this process outdated compared to our competitors? How is this change going to benefit the wider organisation? The problem we have as leaders and I am sure we have all felt it before is that this system does not take us out of our comfort zone and appears quite narrow minded – it can be frustrating for leaders as they feel their team members are not innovative enough and fail to see the bigger picture. Our reaction is often focused on communicating why the change of process is necessary which is a good start but it will fail to stick if we have not took our time to work on the inner belief systems which are driving the thinking of that individual. 

In system two, we enter into a more complex way of decision making and this may involve solving a complex maths problem or following a particularly complex workflow for the first time. We are often resistant to enter into system two thinking because we are out of our comfort zone. This tendency to rely on system one is then amplified by the growing complexity that many employees face during large scale change initiatives. 

Behavioural science underpins our change management programs because without it, change simply will not stick. We support leaders by humanising their change management initiatives, flipping them on their head and all the time working on their behaviours. When we identify that an individual is particularly attached to system one thinking we challenge their thinking through transformational coaching and give them a little nudge out of their comfort zone. Very often the unknown becomes the comfort zone and the change begins to stick.

If you are particularly interested in learning more about neuroscience, growth mindset and behaviour in leadership, Haydn’s book Microleadership is just for you! We are running a workshop in Central London on this very topic – don’t miss out, reserve your tickets today:

If you think we can help your business and you would like to get a feel for who we are let’s have a chat.

Scroll to Top


Subscribe To Receive Our Newsletter and Blog: