The Two-Step of Change Leadership

I love change.  Or so I thought.

A few months ago I made an offhand comment to my husband in mixed company,

“I love change!” I declared.

What came back was an incredulous look, “No you don’t.  You hate change.  You only love change you initiate.  You hate it when it happens to you.”

To which I could only say….. “Oh.  Right.”

As a leader I can be so focused on driving change for an organization that I forget how it feels to have change roll over you.  That is how it feels, isn’t it?  Change that comes at us can feel like a speeding Mack truck rolling over our hopes, our plans, our best intentions, our routines.  Change comes and our sense of security, stability and well-being vanish.

The Difference between Leading Change and Coping with Change

But I do love to drive change.  What does that means?  It means I like to bend the world to my vision of the future.  I like to design the future according to my preferences.  I like to anticipate what is on the horizon and create something now that will serve that future time well.

Leading change is different from coping with change.

Recognizing that big difference is a key factor in equipping teams and leaders to manage and navigate change. 

Leading change means you are in a position with some authority to make a series of decisions about other people’s lives.  It feels different to the change leader than it does to the change leader’s team. Being in control of decisions about other people’s destiny is a responsibility to take seriously.

Change leaders out there, it is wise to remember this!

A Lesson in Change Leadership

Here are a couple change insights to keep in mind as you lead and navigate change in your organization and on your teams:

Change leadership requires a complicated emotional dance; ours and theirs.

The emotional stories of the leader and the team are necessarily different.

 Be aware of this difference and make intentional space for it.

When we lead change, we have to step through our own emotions while simultaneously equipping others to navigate their fears, excitement, anxiety, curiosity and anger.  Yes, anger.  We feel all kinds of emotions when we move through change, and leaders would do well to realize that the emotions that arise when you are reacting and responding to someone else’s change are different from the way we feel when we are leading change.

We need to create two spaces:

Ø  A space in which we can be listened to, and

Ø  An environment in which we can listen to and facilitate our team’s change process.

These two practices will help you navigate through both your experiences and theirs:

1.      Find a trusted colleague you can talk with regularly.

This should be a peer with whom you can discuss your own personal experience and from whom you can seek counsel, as you help your team navigate the change successfully.  The change you experience personally and the one you are leading are different.  Make space for both experiences in your conversation.

2.      Make space to listen to your team.

Facilitate conversations that both share information (even the fact that you don’t have information is information!) and seek to discover their questions.  Be prepared to:

Ø  Listen.  Really listen, honestly and openly.

Ø  Reflect back that you have heard what was shared.

Normalize the feelings:  they are valid.

Ø  Ask questions about what will best equip them to move forward through the change.

Ø  Ask what their questions are.  Their unanswered questions will keep them from being engaged and energized.  You need to know what they want to know more about.

Note: It is typically not wise to try to answer those questions as they are asked.  Collect all the questions first, and then answer them.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to point toward a positive future.  To be able to help the team and organization frame what the New, Future Reality will look like.  Conversations that ask and answer questions begin to shape a common vision.  When the vision begins to be shared by a team’s collective imagination, you are on your way to creating the future together.