Casting shadows: Why change is the only constant in business

Steve Preston columnist

Steve Preston, founder and managing director of Heat Recruitment

It is said that the only constant in business, is change. From the worst recession in a generation and the loss of almost 1 million jobs in the UK, to record-high employment levels in less than a decade, change and change management has become the staple of business over the last few years.

At an organisational level, change can have many implications both on culture and performance. Despite this, business leaders need to be reminded of the influence they have and do exert on the company itself – both good and bad.

Indeed, research conducted by The Company Behind the Brand found that the reputation of the CEO accounts for around 60% of the organisation’s market value and 50% of the company’s overall reputation. These findings are by no means exclusive. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust in UK businesses has dropped to a low of 43% over the last 12 months – such is the influence of an organisation’s most senior people.

The role and influence of the CEO has never been more important. But they must live and breathe the changes they want and expect from their teams.

This is what we refer to as the shadow of the leader.

Having high expectations of your teams and expecting them to be dedicated and hard-working employees who deliver strong performance that give the business that all-important competitive edge, is exactly the right thing to expect. But this can only come from business leaders. It is they who shape the organisation’s values, culture and expected behaviours that the rest of the business adheres to.

This is clearly visible across many organisations – just look at the indelible print left by the likes of Jack Welch at GE, Walt Disney and Richard Branson. However, a leader’s shadow is not formed solely by their charisma and appeal. It is, as the renowned social thinker Max Weber noted, because “they believe in him [or her].”

This is the point. The shadow phenomena exists for anyone who is a leader of a group, team, institution or business. And like it or not, the rest of the organogram will tend to assume the characteristics of those who hold power and influence over them.

Trouble is that too many leaders are either unaware of the reach of their shadow, or don’t practice what they preach. The American social commentator and novelist summed this up brilliantly when he said: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Never a truer word.