As you strive to support your team and create a culture for employee success, these ideas and action items are great reminders that our language reflects our thinking, and when it comes to leading change, our thinking drives our action. You can’t do what you need to do as a leader unless you can make change work — and you can’t do that without engaging people.
In an article written by Randy G. Pennington, consultant and the author of “Make Change Work” for SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), Four Ways to Lead Change, below is the third way identified to successfully lead change. In this installment Deborah Larew, director, students with disabilities, and Jason Dodge, assistant director, student development, share their insights about leading change in their areas.
- Use resistance as your friend. When leaders encounter resistance to a change they want to make, their first response is often to reason with the resistors. If that doesn’t work, we resort to bargaining, manipulation or using power to mandate compliance. They push us, and we want to push back. We forget the positive value of resistance: without it, there is no change.
Deborah shared, “Resistance to a change, at times, is felt at all levels of leadership and can be beneficial, as this allows leaders to reflect upon the reason for the change and provides encouragement to look at current situations or processes a bit differently.” Deborah explained that there are times when change is imminent, and she finds that she is the one showing resistance to the change.
An example would be the recent Florida legislative changes regarding standard diploma/special diploma options and developmental education. “When faced with drastic changes to my established norm, I am wise to consider how I can take this inevitable change that I initially resisted and make something really positive out of it. I think that in turn, it communicates that we not only accept change, but can embrace it as a dynamic and positive impetus toward growth and the next new BIG THING.”
One of the strategies Deborah practices frequently, which she gleaned from authors Peter Senge and Robert Heifetz, is that a leader must remove herself from the dance or go to the balcony. When change is needed or when change is imminent, a leader must remove herself and step back to see the barriers.
“One way that I have found to do this successfully is to bring in experts that are not so close to the day-to-day work. For example, as my department began its next cycle of strategic planning, I initially brought together two co-workers to develop the plan. I realized that a third party was needed (skilled in strategic planning) who could elicit the voice of the entire team in a non-biased way, to identify barriers that I could not see,” Deborah explained. This not only helped identify potential barriers, but it ensured that all of her team members were included and thus helped to support the goals they created together.
“Leading change is exciting work! It is slow and tactful work. One must bring all the stakeholders to the table and be open to others’ ideas,” Deborah said.
In Jason’s experience with leading change, he has found that people predominately look at change in one of three ways: with fear, excitement or a combination of the two. He believes that the fear comes primarily from the unknown, while the excitement comes from the opportunity to be a part of progress and something that is larger than oneself.
“For supervisors, at first, resistance to change can be stressful and cause disequilibrium. On the other hand, it can also be a much needed sign that you may not be taking into consideration the most important aspect of change; the human side, ”Jason explained.
Resistance can act as a checkpoint for the leader of a change initiative. It is also positive because it shows that those who will be affected by the change are invested. “I have found that the best thing to do is to take advantage of this investment by listening to those around you and encouraging true partnership and collaboration,” Jason said.
These words from leadership development authors Kouzes and Posner resonate with Jason: “Project leaders make extraordinary things happen by liberating the leader within every team member.”
“Since joining the Valencia family, I have learned a lot from my colleagues (and of course my students) about leading change. While I like to use Kouzes and Posner’s philosophy of project leadership on a daily basis, with the understanding that my main priority as a supervisor is to develop, encourage and support those around me so that they can achieve their professional goals, as well as the organizational goals of the College, the statement also rings true when it comes to leading change,” Jason said.
“By involving all individuals affected by a change initiative and encouraging them to take a leadership role in that process (such as we do at a collegewide level with the Big Idea Group sessions), you provide an opportunity for diverse ideas to come together and for everyone to have an opportunity to take ownership over the change that is occurring,” Jason explained. He believes if you create an environment of transparency and collaboration every day (not just in times of change), when it comes time to lead a specific change initiative, supervisors will find the process to be a little more seamless because you have already worked to create a culture of inclusion.
These Valencia leaders demonstrate how to use resistance as your friend. Ask questions and listen; be patient and realize that the concerns raised by a few are probably shared by others. Doing this allows these leaders to connect with their team members where they are.