9 Indispensable Actions for Times of Change Sources of Strength for Every Leader and Their Team
In times of change, leaders are called to be at their peak. We must follow leadership disciplines reflexively, much the same way a doctor does when there’s a problem and someone begins to bleed. During an office procedure, if a vessel is cut and heavy bleeding occurs, I quickly and instinctively respond. First, I immediately apply pressure. Second, I locate the source of the bleeding. Finally, I put a wide stitch around the area that is bleeding. I have done this countless times. It is a reflex that works every time. Occasionally, things may get a little bloody, but no serious injury occurs if a doctor follows these steps.
Likewise, as leaders, we need to have a plan in place which we instinctively implement during times of change. My teams have been going through change recently, so I have been reflecting on this topic quite a bit. I want to share with you nine reflexes, or practical steps, you must exercise during transition.
Communicate frequently to everyone involved—and do it often. When you update your people on the specifics of the progress, first, it makes them aware of the changes so they know how to respond to what is required of them. Second, it decreases their anxiety because they are not guessing what is going to happen next, or wondering if things are going according to plan. Third, and maybe most important, it demonstrates they are valued and an integral part of the process, not just a tag-along person who is always the last to know.
How you achieve this depends on the platforms you already have in place. Our team meets daily, so that is the ideal time to provide updates. Other options include sending emails or calling special meetings. I prefer to update people in person as much as possible, even if it’s a quick face-to-face interaction. Especially in times of elevated stress, I want to see their reactions, hear their comments, and weigh their advice.
2—Encourage and uplift.
During times of change, we must not get so busy as leaders that we forget to lift people up. These times of change and uncertainty can make heavy withdrawals on people’s emotional reserves. So do what all leaders must do: catch people doing something great. If they offer ideas, listen and acknowledge them for it. If they work harder than normal, as people many times do during times of change, appreciate them. If they do something extraordinary, praise them in front of others. Fill people’s emotional tanks all the time, but especially during transition and stress. Fill them with genuine, honest, and personal remarks. There is no room for inauthentic flattery here.
3—Prepare to spend more time, not less, with your key drivers.
This is critical. In times of change, key people on your team usually carry the heaviest load. Make sure you are budgeting the extra time needed to support the people who report to you. Your role as the leader should be to serve them during these times, pick up the slack, and be there for whatever is required as your key people push the team forward. Don’t fall for the common tendency to spend less time with people, as we all may do whenever we get busy with the changes in progress.
4—Steady your emotions as problems come.
When things change, something nearly always goes wrong, sometimes terribly wrong. Just last week, our team worked extra hard to get ready for an IT transition we were making from a local server to the cloud. The data had to be copied after we closed at 9pm. Everything was planned, and everyone was exhausted. I got a call from our administrator at 9:30pm that there was a big problem in the data transfer. It was potentially catastrophic for our team, which would mean them having to pull off another herculean effort to resolve.
The administrator and I were at our wits ends over the phone, talking to key people until midnight. Our emotions could have easily spiraled out of control, but even though we were both challenged, we managed. The next day our entire team was meeting at 7am, so we were each waking up around 5am to get ready for that. We were exhausted and stretched. The key to successfully navigate your emotions is to expect problems, and when they happen, stay calm and steady. Many people are looking to you.
5—Be ready to sacrifice.
Times of change are times for leadership. These are the times when leaders earn their keep. We must be prepared for personal sacrifice when needed: sacrifices of our time, our comforts, and our routines in order to do whatever is required. Just be ready to give of yourself both personally and professionally.
6—Manage fear and anxiety.
The most effective means for people to manage their own fear and anxiety is to mirror those of their leader. The leader has the greatest influence on their people, so it is critical that they handle the pressure of change well. At pivotal moments, only the leader can step up and say, I see the issue, let’s go this direction. If you are afraid and anxious, if you are perturbed and petrified, your people will reflect your feelings. Give them confidence that we will be okay. Further, give individuals confidence that on a personal level, they will be okay, too.
[You may also like to read my post: Three Questions Your People Will Ask During Change.]
Our data interruption was finally resolved, and the data was successfully transferred. Even after we had been up all night resolving the IT issues, Stephanie, our administrator, did an excellent job updating the team. She had everything prepared and printed, and she gave all of us a plan of what we needed to do. She didn’t “wing it.” It was clear, she had spent hours in advance preparing to give us the confidence and clarity we would need. She made it easy to understand what we could expect for the next few days. Stephanie did the hard work of a leader. Because of her personal sacrifice and extra hours, we left our morning meeting feeling good.
I told the team that morning that the most important thing during times of change is not the change; it the relationships. Changes come and go. Projects come and go. But relationships outlast them all, or at least they should. If we are not careful, we place the success of the change above the relationship, and we develop corrosive emotions toward anyone we think may disappoint. In those situations, we may use words that will not be forgotten and often degrade our relationship.
Get things done. Push people. Push yourself. But don’t cross the line of no return, the line of permanent injury between yourself and others. Remember this will not be your last battle to fight alongside your team members.
9—Pick your battles.
Napoleon was successful because he knew which battles to fight. He focused his army on one battle at a time. During times of change, when you are met with yet another battle, another challenge, or another crisis, try your best to put it off. If you don’t, you may crack emotionally or strain your team. It is your duty as the leader to direct your team to which battle to fight, and protect them from the battles that can be put off for another day.
During our recent change, one of our contractors was doing a subpar job which required attention. But we chose to put it off until we had completed the current change. After receiving complaints from one of our team members, I overheard one of our leaders say, one battle at a time, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
I hope these nine actions strengthen your leadership during your times of change.
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