It is hard to imagine anyone who is considered a good leader who has a poor relationship with change.
Change is like air. Always there, we breathe it in because it is necessary to life itself, yet sometimes it isn’t sweet, it’s acrid.
Change can be scary. It reminds us that our sense of control is really an illusion.
Change, when predictable, can become a source of joy. Instead of an unwanted surprise, some change can be anticipated as “a welcome change.”
To “see some pretty leaves,” we took a fall road trip from Central Florida up into the Smoky Mountains. Wow. Trees don’t show off like that here in Florida. They were magnificent. The visual “change of seasons” is Nature’s reminder that change is inevitable…why not embrace and enjoy it?
Maybe you’ve learned how to “respond vs. react” to change, and that’s a good start. How would you rate your change management skills?
- Does a big change throw you off your game? How long does it take you, on average, to generate a “response” after your initial “reaction”?
- Do you prefer that things stay the same, or are you intentional about innovation, exploration, and improvement?
- How good are you at retiring old ways of working that no longer serve you or your organization?
- Do you invest time to think through the outcomes of a change and empathize with those affected?
- How are your skills at generating positive participation from everyone affected by a change?
Leadership means you greet changes, small or large, with confidence and agility. Truly, there is NO way to avoid change, so the best leaders practice agility (agility means to move quickly and easily). This is one of those attitudes that must start with you, the leader, whether in your family, community, workplace or business. Your relationship with change and your attitude about dealing with it has a profound effect on others around you. Remember that.
Why is change so often despised? Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their routine, environment, or performance. It disrupts the status quo. Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways including foot-dragging or petty sabotage. Or people may leave rather than adjust (the opposite of being agile when it comes to change).
A huge change recently occurred in Joel Eschenbach’s work and home life. Yet what I saw and heard seemed like it was a cakewalk, a smooth and easy path from one world to another. Joel and his wife, Tara, decided to move from Florida to North Carolina. That is not so unusual for couples to agree on following their dream, but it takes some courage and skill to make it happen when you own a business with employees and also parent five young children. So I asked Joel his secret.
Both at work and home, the conversation was started early on. In the company, the hurdles administrative details were discussed and addressed as a team. Joel helped everyone see the opportunity of fine-tuning their ability to work virtually, something they were getting more and more used to, anyway. “If you want to move somewhere,” Joel told his team, “go ahead.” How freeing is that?!
“One of our company’s core values is flexibility,” Joel said. That sounds like a leader with agility, doesn’t it? That is how to manage change, ideally.
What about the natural resistance to being uprooted that all of his children would experience? “We were considering a move a year ago, but the kids’ resistance levels were pretty high,” Joel said. “Then Covid happened.”
With forced isolation, cessation of going to school, and cancelled extracurricular activities, the Eschenbach children suffered along with others all over the world. They went through a grieving process of missing their friends, sports, music lessons and routine. They became acclimated to hanging out with the family and pets at home.
They all took a road trip over the summer to NC, and that gave everyone a vivid picture of a new life chapter to look forward to. They put their home up for sale and, even when re-engaging in many social things could have been resumed, Joel and his wife kept the family close to home. Why get back to activities and people you’d soon have to give up? The grieving process would kick in all over again. So they avoided that, sold their house quickly, and moved to NC with more excited anticipation than sad goodbyes. There are adjustments to make as they settle in, but this huge change that impacted so many people was smoothly handled with the amazing and agile leadership of Tara and Joel.
Joel is pleased to report that his team at Notion Design Group (web design) has been very supportive and everyone is on board for making all the adjustments needed to have things work better than ever. It’s fitting that a tech savvy company would figure out how to leverage virtual teamwork to be a win-win.
Change, by definition, is disruptive and pretending that “it’s nothing” is not a good strategy. Although leaders can’t always make people feel comfortable with change, they can minimize discomfort.
Your best leadership focus around change is to be authentic, agile, and have appreciation for what it will mean to others.
Guidelines to Introducing Change
Whether you are making a big announcement to your Board of Directors, telling a tenth-grade class about a new grading system, or explaining a big decision that means changes for your family, don’t rush into it. Planning a thoughtful way to communicate the news and put it in the best context will make all the difference in how the change is received by others. Adapt these guidelines to fit your situation, but don’t skip over any of them.
- Start with a Change Purpose Statement. Explain what will be different and the strong reasons for the change.
- Give specifics of the expected benefits. How will the change fit into the bigger picture? How is it congruent with the mission, vision or goals in play?
- Acknowledge the points of conflict and be honest about consequences. Be clear about whose partnership and collaboration is needed.
- Give a timeline and paint a picture of how things will look after the change is made, including measurements if applicable.
- State the short and long term ROI (the return on investment that makes it all worth it).
Favorite quotes about change
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
—Viktor E. Frankl
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“The best leaders begin with an environment that embraces and rewards change and innovation.”
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
And last, but not least, this, from Ben Franklin:
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Benjamin Franklin was someone who truly embraced change and had such diverse pursuits—a politician, inventor, scientist, musician, entrepreneur and author.
As a leader, will your improved relationship with change empower those around you? Yes. As your relationship with change improves, you will find yourself more naturally curious, creative, and innovative. You will be more admired than ever—people may not realize why they are drawn to you, but being empowered in the face of change is no small thing.
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