How successful leaders respond to change
It’s natural to respond negatively to change because every change involves loss and uncertainty.
Even if things are not perfect, they are still familiar to you - it’s the “devil you know”.
Yet, there are successful leaders who sincerely embrace change, rather than trying to passively or actively resist it. These leaders take part in change, make productive contributions and create tremendous results. They quiet their lizard brain, trump cultural norms and shed their old skin.
Amid a business world of constant change, it’s the only way to achieve sustainable success.
Imagine a world without change for a moment. Can you imagine a world without Apple, Amazon or Tesla? What if leaders like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk decided to remain complacent and wedded to the status quo? Where would we be today without their seemingly endless innovation?
All these success stories have a common thread - don’t become a victim of change. Leaders are people who don’t just learn to live with or manage change — they actually create change and help others successfully navigate it.
What follows are some character traits I have seen in leaders who majestically weather the storm of change. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a primer for those who want to come out as the victor over change:
They get hungry and hunt for facts.
"If you don’t truly get under the change and analyze it before you react to it, you may miss something — like the critical time to quit your job and move on.” - James Rosebush
Successful leaders are curious about the possibilities that change promises and are often skeptical of conventional wisdom.
They challenge their previous belief systems by enhancing their situational awareness. They realize that the current state is not that comfortable, and that remaining in it is unappealing.
They don’t fear conflict and instead share their concerns and assess plausible alternatives.
They step outside of their comfort zone to anticipate threats to their current success but also address how they’re going to tackle them. They let go of “the way things are done around here” to pursue a greater goal and disrupt the status quo. They take the time to understand what the specific changes include, who the changes will impact and how it will impact key stakeholders.
Try overturning some rules of the road and muting consensus like these leaders do, because you may just elicit some of the facts of the change as a result.
They focus on the things they have control over.
"Don’t sit on the sidelines and allow worry to be the landing zone; instead, make it your jumping-off point.” - Michael F. Kay, Forbes.com
According to a number of studies related to social needs in the workplace, the perception of greater autonomy increases the feeling of certainty and reduces stress.
Successful leaders know that even during times of large-scale change, there is always at least one thing that will remain the same. They uncover the meaning in the work they do and own it. So, instead of thinking of a project as a “company project” think of it as “my project”. It could be an opportunity for you to do something that benefits the whole company. Accept uncertainty and learn to thrive in it.
They stay positive.
“Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” - Jim Rohn
It’s all a matter of perspective. Successful leaders visualize positive outcomes when it comes to change because they know that no matter the outcome, they’re in control of their response.
They meditate, they practice gratitude and they play so that they can cultivate positive intelligence. Research shows that positive thinking does indeed have an impact on your skills.
They see change as an opportunity, and not a threat. Just ask Kodak, RIM, and Blockbuster what they didn’t see through a positive lens of opportunity.
Successful leaders picture life after the change, including, if everything works out, where they will be at the end. Shift the internal dialogue in your head and get excited about moving forward.
Effective preparation for change begins with the mind.
Successful leaders actively look for new and necessary information - they choose to learn. They know what they don’t know. They know it’s dangerous to claim that you “know everything”.
They have the self-awareness around their capabilities, and what they need to do to build skills and knowledge in how to perform effectively in the future state. They become the credible messenger for their teams, interpreting what’s going on for people and explaining what it means for them in specific, concrete terms.
For those that are familiar with Prosci’s ADKAR model for change, this is the K, or Knowledge, piece. Successful leaders must ensure that there is capacity for learning, adequate resources available for training and most importantly, participate themselves. They take the time to engage in formal training programs so that they can adequately support their teams and colleagues in the new ways of working. They role model the change to sustain it.
There are numerous effective strategies that successful leaders employ when faced with change, and what I have described above are only a few. Successful leaders tackle change head-on and remove the fear-factor. They know what must be done, cultivate a positive culture and always find a way. They may fall, but pick themselves up repeatedly, in turn, developing resiliency. I challenge you to find a leader who’s succeeded during change and model yourself after them - you have the formula, just believe in your ability to use it.