7 Observations of Leading Change

I Tweeted recently, “You can have change without leadership, but I’m not sure you can have leadership without change.”

Change is all around us. But, as leaders, we are called to be agents of change. We are charged with taking people to places they may not be able to go on their own – or at least no one has taken the steps to get started. But, you can’t take people someone new without change.

I keep learning about change leadership. And, the more I learn the more I seem to not know. I talk some about change in my book The Mythical Leader. Here I want to share a few random obvservations I’ve made about leading change.

7 observations on leading change:

Be a proponent of the new more than an opponent of the old. Everything which happened in the past was not bad. In fact, something happened which has allowed you to be where you are today. When you bash prior days and leadership you push people into a defensive mode and alienate people who might otherwise support you.

Keep the “why” as simple and easy to understand as possible. You will have to repeat it often – like continually – so, you want it to be sticky enough for people to quickly grasp. People aren’t as reluctant to the what the more clearly they understand the why.

Know the key stakeholders. The number one component of change is always people. People matter. (People who don’t understand this aren’t leaders as much as they are tyrants.) Most people are looking for someone to help them – lead them. And, because of that, there are always leaders in the room. They are not always the loudest voices, but they are the ones to whom people will listen. They may be adversaries or allies, but you simply have to know who they are if you want to lead change successfully.

Understand the real resistance. It’s not always the obvious. Sometimes it’s a very minor issue, which can be resolved easily. And, sometimes it’s simply change. Every change comes attached with emotions – a sense of loss. Knowing why people are resisting helps the leader walk people through change in a caring, less controlling way.

Timing is huge. It’s difficult to know the perfect time to make a change, but doing the right thing at the wrong time can end up being the wrong thing – no matter how much change is needed. The key is leaders must strategically plan out a timeline for change. When are key decisions going to be made? Who is told what and when? What are the steps which need to be taken before the change is made?

Identify critical wins and non-critical elements.You may not get everything you want. It’s a pretty controlling leader who thinks they must. There need to be some collaboration and cooperation. It’s a healthy part of leading people – and it’s a necessary part of leading change. Identify what must take place to be successful. Use a team to help you with this if possible. Then hold everything else with open hands.

Develop a healthy rhythm of change. Ultimately, you want the each new season of change to go easier than the last. This isn’t always possible, of course, simply because some change is more complex than others and seasons change for people, cultures and organizations. But, great leaders become students of change. They learn as they go. And, the way you handle change – things like the speed at which you change, the people you include in change, the rest and celebration in between change – helps develop the DNA of change in the organization. Change is never easy, but over time you become better at leading change and the organization becomes better at accepting change.

I’ve written many other posts on change. You can search this blog or see some of the related posts. (I am even slowly working on a book on leading change.) As I said though, I’ve mostly learned I have so much to learn. So, help me improve in change leadership. What have you observed along the way?

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