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91. On Leading and Surviving Change

It has become somewhat ridiculous to say that there is an unusual amount of change going on at the moment, as the same thing could have been said five years ago, ten years ago, maybe even twenty years ago. Like saying the weather is unusual for the time of year, it's probably time we stopped saying it as if it is something out of the ordinary. So, if change is the order of the day, and we find ourselves playing a part in leading or facilitating change, whether formally or informally, what can we do both to do it well, and to protect ourselves from its dangers and pitfalls? 'Lets face it, to lead is to live dangerously.' Heifetz and Linsky, A Survival Guide for Leaders The guidance that Heifitz and Linsky lay out in their interesting article are surprisingly applicable whether you are leading a large corporation, a small team, or a family or group of friends. What they say, in essence, is that leadership roles are precarious - you are always at risk of being criticised and subverted, especially during change. It's important therefore that leaders both recognise and accept that risk, and take reasonable precautions to avoid it... Imagine that your department has to move to new offices. Nobody wants to go, people are arguing about which office they want, new reduced parking availability is causing civil war, the IT company who were meant to be sorting out the computer transfer have just gone into liquidation and you have so far changed the date for the removals people four times. Here are some actions that will almost certainly help: Go from the dance floor and up to the balcony Instead of firefighting and getting stressed, take some time away from the action. From the balcony you can see more clearly, including yourself and what is happening. You realise,for example, that the date you move is not crucial. You remember that the person who is most vociferous about parking has some health anxieties at the moment. Some solutions about office allocation come to mind. You notice that you're running round like a headless chicken, which isn't helping. Keep allies and opponents close, and court the uncommitted You have been spending time with your best friends at work, and avoiding the trouble-makers. It's only human, but Heifetz and Linsky say you need to keep abreast of your opposition and should have a coffee with your enemies once a week. And you should give special attention to those who seem to be neither allies nor enemies. Show people that you understand what they are losing Change always involves loss. It feels much easier to disregard people's unhappiness than to face up to it, but people respond a whole lot better when they feel that their losses have been noted and understood. Allow and contain conflict As with people's unhappiness, conflict can feel both unappealing and threatening, and our instinct is to quash or avoid it. But again, people respond better when they have been heard, and as long as conflict is facilitated carefully, feelings can often be soothed and consensus can often emerge. Practice what you preach As Gandhi said, 'be the change you want'. If you want your team to accept a poorer working environment, for example, it won't help if you assign yourself the only office with a window. Beware your need for control or importance To see what happens when these needs become over-emphasised, look no further than what happened in the cases of two prime ministers in the uk who had third terms. Too much control and feeling important leads over time to the loss of some very important qualities in a leader: Humility, doubt, allowing of dissent, dependence on others. Schedule regular recovery time The more demanding and stressful a situation is, the less likely we are to do this, but the more important it is that we do. A walk, time with a good friend, a long bath, meditation, whatever works for you. Be clear about the distinction between you and the role. This is another way of saying that you are not your job. This helps when under attack, or when you are onto your sixth move date. It's the role you have been playing that has been compromised or rejected, or the message that you have been bringing, not you. H and L note that the protective mechanisms habitually used by leaders often look rather different to these. They say: 'Cynicism, often dressed up as realism, undermines creativity and daring. Arrogance, often posing as authoritative knowledge, snuffs out curiosity and eagerness to question. Callousness, sometimes portrayed as the thick skin of experience, shuts out compassion for others.' They go on to say that the hard truth is that you can't know the rewards of leading without experiencing the pain. Try this: 1. What change are you leading or dealing with at the moment? If you're not involved in change at the moment, choose a time in the past when you were. It may be implementing change from above, initiating it yourself, or simply being a part of it. It may be a restructuring a department, planning a wedding, moving house. 2. Taking each of the above tips in turn, to what extent do or did you employ these practices in your role of leading or facilitating this change? 3. Is there anything you would like to do differently in the future? Have a productive week! Anita