Leading Change: Meet Me Where I Am

Where Am I?

When an organization under goes a big change, there is often times a lot of visual evidence that something is new or different. People, places, or things are no longer how they were and the way things are done have been altered.

These things can be for the better. And they can also be for the worse.

Imagining Change

Because big change efforts need a lot of attention to the obvious, the unspoken and less-obvious things can be neglected or forgotten. And what often goes under the radar is how people feel about the new changes.

The challenge for a leader implementing change is remembering what it feels like to experience change.

When a leader, or a team of leaders, disconnects from the emotional aspects of a change effort, they may be totally unaware of the personal tsunamis that their people may be experiencing.

This can often be so disturbing that the change effort is eventually deemed a failure.

Avoiding Tragedy

To avoid the emotional pitfalls and landmines that can plague any big change effort, leaders must be able to empathize with their people. They need to get past the rush to just get everyone on board and take the time to make sure that everyone on board is really on board.

In order to help create a successful initiative, leaders need to be emotionally plugged into the heads, hearts, and souls of their people and understand that they may be dealing with hidden issues like:

  • Fears
  • Uncomfortableness
  • Disorientation
  • Distraction
  • Alienation
  • Abandonment
  • Insecurity
  • Shock

A Case in Point

Big New Change

While leading the beginning stages of a change initiative recently, the church that I attend opened a new sanctuary. During construction, we talked about our community’s vision and the purpose of the new facilities.  We lingered over models and took a tour of the unfinished building.

The future looked promising.

But when we held the first service there, I was strangely uncomfortable.

  • My “normal seat” was gone.
  • The new sanctuary had no middle aisle like the former one did.
  • I didn’t recognize any of the people who used to sit in the same section.
  • And when the music started, the volume overwhelmed me.

Tsunami Recovery

To get more settled, I moved to the back to see if it helped.  It was cold back there. The blasts of cold air made me shiver.  I was not settled. In fact, I was regretting the whole “new” thing.

All of a sudden, I thought:

“Maybe it’s time to look for a different church.”

But in an instant I retracted this thinking:

What?! What kind of reaction was that for a long-time member?

I was unsettled, confused, alarmed, cold, and looking for peace.

Speaking the Obvious

The pastor began with this, “Sometimes when a good thing happens, it can feel weird.”  He explained how moving into the new building was a milestone, but like any move, the new place didn’t feel like home yet.

He reminded us of our vision and purpose, And he acknowledged feeling at home would take a while.

I relaxed when he said, “There are so many bells and whistles that we don’t how to work.  It’s too cold in here.  It’s too loud.  We’ll figure that out.  But you have all the time you need to get used to this place.  It’s okay to feel weird until you don’t feel weird here anymore.”

The Meeting Place

He met us right where we were.  Disoriented, confused, uncomfortable—he met us right there. He didn’t try to hide the negative stuff.  My trust in him increased as he acknowledged reality.

A leader of change must think about the people affected by the change and address their concerns in the transition. they need to properly and effectively deal with what’s ending, what’s up for grabs, and what will be in the future.

How a servant leader engages in that “letting go” phase is critical to how people move through the phases.

The authenticity, integrity, and empathy of my pastor brought us into a journey together, embracing a new place, while letting go of the old.

Being Others Focused

Robert Quinn describes a necessary shift in the leader. Normally, we are more “self-focused, externally directed, internally closed, and comfort-centered.”

This means that we are:

  • More intent on our own success than others
  • More concerned about how I appear to others
  • Not open to new opinions
  • Unwilling to get out of your comfort zone

To really carry out your purpose and help people navigate change, leaders must become more “others-focused, internally directed, externally open, and purpose-centered.”

This means that we are:

  • More concerned about the common good
  • Leading out of integrity
  • Seeing questions and concerns as necessary pieces of information
  • Fully committing to the end result, regardless of personal comfort

On Vision and Hope

In a change process, the journey of the individual is related to the  journey of the leader.  As a leader is clear about the vision and direction, and is committed to getting there, people gain hope.

As a leader is honest about realities and what needs to change, people gain trust.

As their questions and concerns are met with empathy and authenticity, people become part of the change community.  As people are engaged in creating solutions, people gain energy and motivation.

The change begins when you’re willing to meet people where they are.

What tips do you have for staying authentic and empathetic in the midst of leading change?


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Andrea Buczynski is VP for Global Leadership Development-HR at Cru
She helps develop effective leaders, growing people, and healthy teams
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog

Image Sources:  feintandmargin.com


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