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What It Takes To Lead Change

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If you’ve ever tried to change a personal habit or lead an organization through change, you know the reality.  Change is hard.  Doing things differently takes courage.  It is de-stabilizing.  It can be messy.  Efforts fail.  Navigating change well calls us to ready ourselves for the turbulence that comes with change.

There is no shortage of resources for those who seek know-how for leading change.   Theories, models, personal accounts of leaders and consulting professionals bring clarity to preconditions for change.  You can learn about important stages the wise will not skip, land mines to watch for, factors and people that threaten change causing organizations to stay or to resettle into the status quo.

As leaders embrace complexities, analyze types of change, map process particulars and examine potential threats, they begin creating foundations for change.

With piqued awareness of obstacles and the complexities of change, still leaders can fall into a dangerous trap, especially if they have been identified as gifted and up-and-coming.  Confident, knowledgeable and keen to lead, it is tempting to draw quick conclusions that pigeon-hole people as “laggards”, among the 16 percent, who will not embrace new ideas unless they have no choice (Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers), or “blockers” (Leading Change, John P. Kotter) or “attackers” (Buy-in: Saving Your Good Idea from Being Shot Down, John P. Kotter, Lorne A. Whitehead).   Leaders do encounter individuals that pose real threats to change.  Expecting they will is vital readiness–readiness best held with patience, humility and curiosity.

Alongside expert advice, insight, and experience, wise leaders take time to pause.  They move from the “field to the balcony” (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linsky) and observe.  As they do, they safeguard against quick judgment and reactivity and respond with careful decision.

To slow down quick judgments, we do well to give pause and stay curious with these questions:

  • Has there been a misunderstanding I’m interpreting as a threat to change?
  • Is this a personality clash?
  • Is this a respected leader that I feel threatened by?
  • What unresolved issues from my past may have surfaced in my interactions with this individual?
  • What do I fear?

Those with strong leadership gifts and know-how risk squandering efforts to lead change.   So watch for threats.  Nurture patience with yourself and others.  Exercise self-reflection with an internal posture of humble curiosity.  Hold a sense of wonder.

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Kathryn Smith offers leadership to congregations through mediation, facilitation of congregational meetings and training in conflict resolution.  As well, she can provide guidance with effective personnel practices and the development of  workshops and resources. Her passion is for assisting and transforming the spiritual, structural and human resources within churches

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