What Makes an Effective Change Management Leader?

2020 saw an unprecedented amount of change in the behavioral healthcare landscape. From the rapid implementation of telehealth to responding to social and political upheaval, the year required leaders in behavioral health to remain agile and quickly adapt to change.

2021 is showing signs of being no different. With a new presidential administration, COVID-19 vaccination distribution challenges, and ongoing national conversations around racial equity and mental health, leaders will need to continue to be ready to act when needed.

But what does it take to lead through change? What traits and abilities does an effective change management leader possess? The following are just a few ways behavioral health leaders can effectively lead their teams in 2021.

Focus on Shared Values

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, leading during times of extreme and pervasive change requires traits of a sapient leader: a leader who is authentic, sagacious, and discerning. This type of leader seeks to unite their team around shared purpose and values.

Change, by its nature, amplifies uncertainty and ambiguity. It’s also easy for leaders and teams to easily go astray when trying to quickly make decisions that deeply affect the organization. Leaders who rally their teams around their mission and vision help increase team cohesion and organizational focus.

Have Humility

The same Harvard Business Review article also describes a sapient leader as a humble leader. Leaders who are successful at navigating change are those who are vulnerable enough to know when to ask others for advice or help.

Rather than having an organization bend to the will of a strong leader, a good change management leader instead allows others to give input to organizational strategic planning. They are ready to admit that they do not have all the answers and see the collective whole as greater than the sum of its parts. They are also willing to express humility and flexibility when plans must change.

Trust Your Team

Along with the principle of trusting others during times of change, effective change management leaders also place trust in their team. These leaders recognize that their team members are the organization’s greatest asset and do all they can to empower staff to perform to the best of their abilities.

Part of this includes creating a culture of psychological safety. During times of great organizational change, it is easy for staff to become anxious, and divisiveness can easily erupt in times of emotional duress. As such, it is critical for leaders to help create a culture of safety so team members feel comfortable expressing their feelings and addressing sources of stress. In fact, this is a central tenant of trauma-informed organizations, and something that helps ease the discomfort of experiencing great organizational change.

Continuously Learn

Effective change management leaders recognize that no one person has all the knowledge needed to navigate all situations. Instead, they recognize the importance of encouraging all staff members to increase their own knowledge and expertise and actively promote learning as a critical aspect of staff development.

Leaders in behavioral health recognize the need for increased depth, breadth, and pace of learning. Inspiring a culture of continuous learning helps organizations remain resilient and ready to apply the appropriate skills during times of change.

One way leaders can encourage this culture is by providing several different opportunities for continuous learning. This can include providing e-learning that can be accessed on demand and a robust learning management system to deploy learning whenever it is needed.

Follow Through with Confidence

John Nash, Executive Director of the Arc of North Carolina, stated in a Relias webinar that follow-through with a plan is critical for change management leaders. Once a plan of action has been created by organizational leadership, that plan must be executed with confidence. It must also be clearly communicated to staff to reduce stress caused by ambiguity and uncertainty.

This confidence in your planning must be clearly demonstrated to your team. If you are stable, your team will be stable; if you are confident, your team will be confident. Staff will always look to leaders during times of duress, so you want to model the behavior you seek in your team members.

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Nellie Galindo

Product Marketing Manager, Relias

Nellie Galindo, MSW, MSPH, received her Master of Social Work and Master of Science in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked with individuals with disabilities in several different settings, including working as a direct service provider for individuals with mental illness and leading a youth program for young adults with disabilities. She has facilitated and created trainings for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the areas of self-advocacy, healthy relationships, sexual health education, and violence and abuse prevention. Galindo has worked in state government helping individuals with disabilities obtain accessible health information in their communities, as well as utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure equal access to healthcare services.

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