Wait, what? Change leadership?

Graphic of four arrows in a circle, red to blue to green to yellow.If you’ve read even a few of my articles or LinkedIn posts, you know I’m a dedicated advocate of helping newly-promoted managers learn the skills and tools they need to succeed – which are vastly different from the skills and tools that got them promoted from individual team member into that leadership position.

So why am I suddenly talking about change and change leadership?

Two reasons, and here we go.

First reason: change is

That’s not a truncated sentence!

Change is. It’s not going to stop, there is no “new normal,” there never really was a “normal” to begin with, we’re not going back to some mythical state of “normal,” and change has been, is, and always will be a part of life.

Our personal lives change all the time, though we often don’t notice – except, perhaps, as a task that needs doing periodically, such as this weekend when I packed away the turtlenecks and hauled out the t-shirts.

Personal change can be as delightful as moving somewhere you love, as simple as swapping seasonal clothing, and as painful as a scary medical diagnosis.

Professional change, for various reasons, tends to loom larger and create more resistance (though perhaps not as large or as resistance-inducing as that diagnosis).

Once we accept that change is – dare I say it! – normal, we can look at how to be more adaptive and accepting of the changes that come our way.

Second reason: given reason #1, managers must become change leaders

There’s a difference – a big difference – between change management and change leadership.

To navigate strategic change and succeed in sustaining it, we need to understand that difference, recognize how both are necessary (neither are sufficient on their own), and learn the skills of both.

Change management = project scope + timeline + resources

Change leadership = neuroscience + professional empathy + identity management

Most managers understand the management piece (often referred to as “project management”), but have never been exposed to the leadership piece.

And this is why first-line managers, who are typically responsible for leading change projects, often struggle, and why many change initiatives fail.

Models of change leadership

I’m not the only one (of course) talking about change leadership. There are a number of change leadership models you can learn.

But as far as I can tell in my research, most of them have one or more pitfalls.

  • They view change as a linear process. This is the pitfall of following the change management approach. Change is not linear!
  • They cling to the outdated belief that emotion is inappropriate in the workplace. This is the pitfall of logic – and believing that we humans are actually logical creatures. Spoiler alert: we’re not, and change, including resistance to change, is a complex emotional experience.
  • They rely heavily on communication as the biggest contributor to success. This is the pitfall of “just tell everyone and it will work” – but while communication is absolutely necessary, it must be (a) carefully crafted to give a complete picture, (b) should always be two-way, not just top-down, and (c) provides knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to the essential emotional buy-in and commitment.
  • They believe in obedience and willpower to get people to do what’s necessary to create the change. This is the pitfall of “just do it” – but there are a thousand ways that uncommitted, uncertain, or anxious employees can subtly undermine the change process, even without consciously meaning to.
  • They recommend fostering excitement and enthusiasm. This is the rah-rah pitfall, which overlooks the fact that real change usually takes a significant amount of hard work and time, and it’s just not possible to sustain consistent excitement and enthusiasm over the long haul.
  • They forget that the human brain has evolutionarily-hardwired patterns and processes that can’t be bypassed. This is the pitfall of overlooking the neuroscience of change.
  • And they forget that we require at least some sense of stability and continuity in order to stay focused and feeling like there’s a foundation we can rely upon. This is the pitfall of identity, which is a tremendous, and often unconscious, influence on every one of us when we face change.

Change fascinates me

My husband will tell you that I am not a fan of change, especially out-of-the-blue change. True enough; I’m a planner, someone who likes to know what’s coming so I can be fully prepared.

But given that change is, I’ve spent many years learning about how change succeeds and how it doesn’t, what actually works, and applying that understanding over and over again in my professional career and personal life.

Change is. And change is often painful and, in corporations, often fails.

Good change leadership – change leadership that actively avoids those pitfalls – can make it a lot less painful and a lot more successful.

Change leadership is my thing. And if you’re facing changes in your organization (who isn’t?!), contact me and we’ll set a time to talk.