One of my favorite leadership books is “Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition” by Kerry Bunker and Michael Wakefield. For a business world awash in leadership titles, this one is a particular jewel because of its focus on the complex human dynamics of transition. I find that organizations are often quite adept at addressing the structural side of change – reorganizing, restructuring, creating new vision, mission, strategy, and so on. What I see far more struggle with is leading and attending to the human side of change – letting go, grieving loss, building hope, and exhibiting compassion.
With high expectations and great demands on our time, the tendency is to fast forward through, or skip altogether, the space needed to reflect on and process the emotional impact resulting from change. But when these emotions are not accepted and addressed as natural and important components, resistance can intensify over the change continuum.
In my career, I’ve served in a number of executive leadership roles for nonprofit organizations. Often, we faced significant organizational change that involved not only our own organization, but also stakeholders and other partnering community groups.
From my experiences, I’ve learned that addressing the delicate human dynamics of change is absolutely critical. A question I ask is “where do you want the pain?” For me, it’s a point of either leaning in to these elements early on – shortly after the change event is announced and acknowledged – or coming back to it later in the process when an organization is trying to implement new process and structure. I find it far better (after much practice, and even failure) to meet it early on. It’s arduous, messy, the process takes longer…and it is absolutely the right thing to do. Get it right, and the resultant implementation can soar.
From these experiences, I’ve grown as a leader, developing compassion, concern, and genuine care for my team and others – a much-needed muscle to lead effectively. Early on, it didn’t come naturally. I wanted to move fast, make decisions, take action, and move on. And I see this in many organizations I work with today.
As Bunker and Wakefield point out, leaders must:
- Examine their behaviors and emotions tied to change and transition. This begins the process of operating from a place of authenticity as a leader.
- Establish and protect trust. Without trust and honesty, authenticity and credibility suffer – undermining otherwise solid change initiatives or management decisions.
- Find a balance between structural leadership and people leadership. By learning important competencies for leading in times of change and transition, leaders gain a new perspective from which to operate.
Later this week, I’ll post more on key leadership competencies critical for transition. What are some of your successful practices in leading through transition?
“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within them.”
Ok. Seriously. I’m laying in my back yard hammock for a few minutes this morning (yes, it’s a work day…Friday). And, I can’t deny that I’m feeling guilty for doing it. I have a mound of work to complete. But, I’m trying to practice what I preach with my “Do Less. Achieve More.” post last Sunday. So, here’s a brief highlight of my experience this week in practicing those tips!
– Focus on the important tasks first. At the beginning of every day – and sometimes the night before – I spent 30-60 minutes getting my game plan set for the day. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this made. Knowing the top 3 things that MUST get done kept me razor-sharp focused. Most days, I accomplished those priorities before lunch. It helped me: say no to a lot of things, let my phone go to voicemail, and check email later (and far less frequently). Those micro interruptions are tempting, powerful derailers!
– Single-tasking. This was one of my greatest areas of practice this week. And what a difference it made! One exercise I tried was walking away from my computer and other distractions while on the phone with clients, friends, and family. I intently focused on my “subject” and our conversation. The outcome? I really ‘heard’ what they had to say. Imagine that! I was focused, engaged, and the call was often shorter because of it. And more meaningful. I’ll bet they noticed too.
– Eliminate non-essential commitments. I’m a natural-born networker and relationship builder. I both love it and hate it. I am attracted to invitations to lunch, coffee, wine, etc. like a mosquito to one of those bug lanterns. Before I know it, I can meet with people all day long and have nothing to show for it at five o’clock except great conversation and a small stack of business cards. This week, I found myself more mindful and purposeful as I said yes – and no – to such invitations. Dare I say, I was far more “strategic.” For me, it’s absolutely critical to be discriminating in choosing whether or not to commit to these engagements. By doing so, I focus my time and energy on what’s most important and matters most to my goal achievement.
– Step away and take a break. See? I’m doing that right now! Even if only for a few minutes – relaxing in a hammock, shooting a few hoops with my son, walking around the block, or going for a quick noon-time run – the brief respite gives me volumes of energy and joy in exercising my choice (remember that?) to just breathe and enjoy a few moments of “me” time. I return to my work and can perform it better, faster, and with a fresh perspective and ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Try it! Seriously. (And stop making up the story you tell yourself: “I don’t have time.” Because you do.)
I’ve had fun with this “Do Less. Achieve More.” theme this week. Talk about immediate gratification! A little practice went a long way in delivering some powerful results. What’s working for you?
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Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.