What does leadership look like during times of constant change?

People react to change in very basic ways. As a leader, you can help others identify and overcome personal roadblocks to success when faced with major change.

It seems that change is relentless in today’s world, from our workplace to our home life. And it is likely one of the most uncomfortable situations we face, often due to our limited control over it. However, there are ways that we can help others around us deal with change, whether co-workers, friends or family members.

Ken Blanchard, author of “The Servant Leader: Transforming Your Head, Heart, Hands and Habits,” suggests that the first thing to do is tell people what to expect. This will help them feel less stressed by knowing what the future holds, even if certain plans are still being developed. Prepare a time-line, with goals and priorities to help visualize the transition. Encourage discussion to allow people to talk about how daily activities will be affected and promote creative problem-solving. Don’t oversell the “positive” aspects of change. Stay focused on the future!

Debra Nelson and James Quick, authors of “Understanding Organizational Behavior,” describe additional feelings many of us experience along with suggestions to help:

Disengagement – this is actually a psychological withdrawal from change. People will often appear to lose initiative and interest in their job. Employees may perform only enough to get the job done. You must be willing to listen so that they will talk about concerns. This will often lead to creative discussion even if solutions are hard to identify.

People may fear loss of identity due to change, which makes them feel threatened. They may grumble and dwell in the past by talking about how great things used to be. As a leader, you can help others identify what they liked about the old situation and then apply those positive feelings to the new reality. Encourage people to let go of the past and acknowledge positive experiences in the future.

Disenchantment may look like outward anger or negativity, and often happens when people are not encouraged to talk about concerns. You may hear “this will never work.” This may be cover for other issues that need to be addressed to identify the real problem. As a leader, you must accept that anger is normal. Encourage others to share concerns without fear of punishment and offer to help resolve problems together. 

Disorientation happens when people feel lost and confused within the changing “system.” They may need to analyze things to death before acting, which can result in lots of wasted energy trying to figure out what to do instead of how to do things. As a leader, you can help people understand where they fit by explaining the overall change in more detailed terms. This will help to establish a sense of priorities to focus on as you move into the future.

Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs for people who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu/ or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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