5 Strategies for Leading Through Change

Leading people in times of change is a tough gig. You have to manage your own emotions, support your team, provide vision and leadership when things are ambiguous and keep doing your day job as well! The good news is that it can be less challenging with some key strategies to help you:

1. Understand that people will be emotional through the change.

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It’s normal and expected. People will grieve as they let go of the old, will feel lost in the transition from old to new, then find stability again as they find a place in the new. Be prepared to help people deal with strong emotions.

Supressing emotions doesn’t help people and neither does wallowing in emotion. Some tips I use from Emotional Intelligence: Go TO the emotion – ask them “how are you feeling? How is this change impacting”? Then go THROUGH the emotion – help them label the emotion and understand the causes.

Some “dealing with emotions” messages for your team that can help are:

  • It’s OK to be slow so long as you’re moving and not stuck somewhere.
  • It’s OK to be slow so long as you’re planning on arriving sometime.
  • It’s OK to be fast so long as you’re tolerant and supportive of slower travellers.
  • It’s OK to be fast so long as you honestly acknowledge your own emotions.

2. Communicate…and listen

In times of change people want to know what is going on, and they also want to be heard. Ramp up your communication and your time spent listening. Even when you don’t have the answers you still need to be talking to your team. In the absence of communication people will make up their own stories – that’s part of human nature.

3. Make yourself more visible.

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As a leader you need to be modelling the behaviours you want to see. You may be feeling uncomfortable facing employees who are threatened and defensive, but you need to be out there. People respond better to change when they see “we are all in this together” rather than “you guys are in it, I’m in my office”.

4. Stay connected to the big picture.

Keep reminding yourself of what you are trying to achieve. A CEO I worked with recently on a business transformation found making people redundant very personally challenging. Several times her resolve wavered as she wondered if she had the strength to do what needed to be done, but every time she brought herself back to the big picture – what the organisation would be like when the transformation was successful. It hurt, it was awful, but she got through it and the organisation is now powering ahead.

5. Look after yourself

Find ways to build on your resilience – exercise, eat well, take time out, seek support from others. Whatever works for you. Remember you are no use to your team if you are burned out. Something important to remember is not to vent to your team. This is common in close knit teams and I see it all the time. However, especially when times are uncertain, your team needs leadership. They need to see you supporting the change and role modelling good coping strategies. Turning to a coach or a mentor for support can be very useful.

How you deal with change has a big impact on your leadership legacy – what people remember you for. What do you want people to say about your leadership?

Rosalind Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal (formerly Boucher) is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros brings an energetic and proactive approach combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Her expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.

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