Scope - Design - Deliver

The Reason Leading Change Can Be So Hard!


People often ask me Steve, what is it you do? I used to take a while to respond because my work and roles vary a lot. I often used to respond with things like, “I’m helping organisations become more effective with operations, systems and people”, and when responding, I found myself regularly feeling less than satisfied with that response.

I subsequently took some time to consider what it was I actually did. I concluded that I provide people with tools, techniques and insights to help them “change” what they do, how they do it and the reasons why they do it. In getting clearer about me – it unlocked my learning about how I went about leading change and found people less resistant to taking on new ideas and activity. My first question for you is are you really clear about what you do first?

I’ve distilled my change leadership ingredients into a four step process; sharing lessons from the many hundreds of leaders from the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East that I’ve supported and coached:

1) BE CLEAR – One generalisation keeps reappearing with leaders I coach and counsel is they often invest in great Vision Statements and Change Objectives, however these on occasion will lack context. Context – or reasons for the change is the glue that binds action and buy in and without it people resist change. Equally if you have little or no vision for what it will feel like or be like – resistance grows.


2) BE THERE – This is not about being physically present; although that is essential, this is about being mentally and emotionally hard wired into the people and customers that are involved and affected by the change. If you don’t have empathy for the recipients directly or as an unintended consequence of change – resistance takes hold again.

3) BE CANDID – This is academically dead easy, behaviourally and emotionally tough for the change teams you lead. This gets more challenging your teams layer their own inhibitions, bonus expectations and personal risk behaviours on top. The old principle of speaking truth to power is made tougher in large organisations because of the fear that drives behaviour. Most senior exec’s I coach often say, “I wish my direct reports would just tell me how it is”? so firstly consider if they are not it could be how you have responded in the past or the conditions to have today. The power of conversation, collaboration, feedback and thought leadership creates ownership and supports context. We often think we are leading change but actually we are more likely managing a change process – without fear free candour people just do, they don’t innovate.

4) BE RESILIENT – Physical and mental resilience is a pre requisite for leading change. Having the right mindset and wellbeing is often left to last in the planning cycle of change leadership, if in deed it’s even in there. This is a rock in my diary at the outset. I have a duty to the people I lead to ensure I’m on my “A game”, that I have the mental and physical capacity to meet the demands expected of me, so I can support them to the very best of my ability. Resilience is not just about physical state but also recognising that in the middle of any change is where it’s historically become most challenging or got very messy. You maybe familiar with Cantors Law? Which suggests that any change initiative can appear to be a failure at some point and most likely in the middle. When you do something new, take some risk or make a change in something, you are almost certain to face a bump in the road – it’s those bumps where failure is realised or resilience help unlock lessons learned and change continues.

So whichever change approach you are taking; if you have high levels of understanding of what you want, need and who with and take a waterfall project or where you have a clear insight as to where you want to go but less clarity and take an Agile approach – consider these four ingredients in your personal leadership change role and I guarantee you less resistance.

Steve Rush, Is a leadership, operations and people transformation coach and leader and author of Leadership Cake.
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