Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage before: The only thing constant is change. This ancient wisdom applies to all things in life, including business. As small business leaders, we’re reminded of it daily. Although we sometimes long for ‘business as usual,’ the reality is, there’s no such thing. Business is constantly changing. Effective leadership requires not only navigating change but truly leading through change with skill and confidence.
When you stop to think about it, you may wonder why leading through change is so difficult. If change is always happening, shouldn’t we be accustomed to it? Shouldn’t we all be well equipped to adapt as needed?
The good news is, humans are quite capable of managing change, meeting challenges, and rising to the occasion. However, when not handled correctly, change in the workplace brings about uncertainty. Along with uncertainty comes fear. Operating in fear creates a climate of distrust, anxiety, and ambivalence, which can undermine productivity, effectiveness, loyalty, and every other factor that undergirds success.
If you want employees to be able to do their jobs well, it’s your job to support them through change. As a leader, you’ll need to get out ahead of change, face it head-on, and demonstrate ways to prepare for it and respond to it, while inspiring openness to whatever’s coming next.
The best part is, effective change leadership recognizes that change is actually an opportunity for growth and improvement. It’s a chance for you to create an inspiring vision and advocate for that vision within your organization.
When we consult with organizations and provide leadership coaching, we offer a helpful framework—The 3 Rs of Leading Through Change. Here’s a quick overview.
How to Lead Through Change
Before diving in, take a moment to reflect on your experience with leading through change. Because no matter your level of experience as a leader, you wouldn’t be in the role without it. Whether you recall leading a major change such as a merger or acquisition or you’ve simply communicated a minor policy update, you’ve been at the helm of change leadership—big or small.
How did it go? If you think about the things that didn’t go well and those that did, it will offer some insight into what contributes to success. As you gain more experience leading in change, don’t forget to check in with yourself and assess what worked and what didn’t. Being constantly observant and self-aware will help you to grow as a leader, and you’ll begin to notice patterns.
You’ll find that no matter the challenge or vision, effective change leadership entails respect, resourcefulness, and resilience.
The cornerstone of effective leadership is mutual respect. If you want your team to trust you and follow your lead, know that you’ll go a lot further together with respect at the forefront of your relationship. Remember, you don’t want them to act reluctantly, but enthusiastically; without respect, that rarely happens.
To cultivate respect, start by identifying shared values. Keep in mind, beliefs vary, lifestyles are diverse, and everyone brings a different perspective and outlook to the table. On some level, you’ll need to be able to meet people where they are.
Avoid making assumptions, which can leave people feeling unseen and unvalued. Instead, step back and be curious about what they may need to do their jobs well. If you want team members to step up to the plate for you, it’s important that you clear the way and make that possible. Connecting with their needs should be a top priority; and while everyone needs to do their part, the leader must see to it that this is possible.
Rather than just telling them what to do, work to help them understand why they are doing it. Rather than just telling them what’s going to happen, work to help them understand why it’s happening and how you are keeping their interests in mind.
When you are respectful of their concerns, you can strengthen your connection. Be clear about your priorities and desired outcomes, so they know where to focus their attention and efforts, and you’ll all come out ahead.
Unclear, incomplete, or disregardful messaging in the midst of change and uncertainty will damage your credibility, compromise trust, and interfere with your ability to be an effective leader.
Successfully leading through change means being resourceful.
The best approach you can take is to do what you can with what you have. When the going gets tough, it’s no time to quit. You may need to pivot, adapt, try something new, or look into options you’ve never considered. You may need to burn the playbook and come up with a whole new game plan.
But if you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or don’t know where to start, seek input and ask for help. This could look like calling on your leadership team to step up, turning to your staff for ideas, tapping a mentor for guidance, or working with a consultant or coach. You don’t have to go it alone, but you do need to take the initiative to effectively lead through change.
Put on your entrepreneurial thinking cap, do some serious brainstorming, pull out all the stops, and get scrappy if you have to. The beauty of small business leadership is you can be nimble and responsive as needed.
Change often means entering uncharted territory, which means you’ll have to be creative, brave—and most of all, resourceful.
Leading through change requires a great deal of resilience, from both the leader and the led.
It’s important to remember that resiliency means more than just being persistent. Weathering storms and doing what is difficult means adopting a tenacious attitude, but it also means accepting what you can’t change, adjusting, modifying, and innovating as you go.
If you want to get through to the other side and come out on top, you’ll need to keep your emotions in check, look for the positive in every situation, and always focus on what you are grateful for under any circumstance.
When heading into change, be prepared to bend. Not break. There’s no denying that change can be tough. So you also need to be prepared to support your team in developing flexibility and endurance to be more resilient.
In the midst of the winds of change, ask yourself what more you can do to help — not to the point of burnout and exhaustion, but to reinforce a sense of confidence in your team and their power to succeed.
Reliable Leadership Now and in the Future
Again, change isn’t something that happens once; it happens again and again. Remember, change is the only thing that’s constant. So being reliable as a leader cannot be underrated.
In the face of uncertainty, leaders work to create stability. At all times, your team needs to know what is expected of them, how you will support them in being successful, and how they will be evaluated along the way. No matter what, your job is to keep showing up, stay true to your word, and always strive to stay out in front of change so you can lead the way through—modeling the kind of behavior you want to see throughout the company to meet your goals.
The better you communicate change and lead by example, the more smoothly it will go—every time.
If you would like support in learning how to lead through change, contact us for a free consultation today.