May 7, 2015

The Inevitable Challenge of Change

It's quite possible that no subject or issue has been written or talked about in the category of leadership more than the inevitable confrontation with CHANGE.

Change (v.) - to transform or convert; to make the form, content, future course, etc...of something different than what it currently is; to substitute or exchange for something else.

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes says, "Only those leaders who act boldly in times of crisis and change are willingly followed." (italics mine)

Andy Stanley, in his book Next Generation Leader (which is one of the Top 5 books on leadership I've ever read) makes the statement: "Progress requires change. If an organization, ministry, business or relationship is going to make progress, it must change. That is, over time it must evolve into something different. It must become better, more relevant, more disciplined, better aligned, more strategic."

Seasons change. The earth and environment count on it. So do we.

Dirty diapers get changed. Or bad things happen.

Old policies change. They may not have been bad, they're just outdated.

People change their hairstyle. They get bored of looking at themselves.

If you've ever painted a room, broken up with someone, bought a new car, sent your kid(s) off to school (or been the one driving off), moved to a new city, tasted something new and liked it, been fired or hired or both, made a New Year's resolution - if you're a human being that's entered adulthood, then you've experienced change. You've initiated change. In fact, you've embraced change. But 9 times out of 10, it's change that we ourselves have brought on and initiated, and therefore welcomed.

It's that change we didn't see coming that always gets us.

The great question in leadership that won't seem to go away is: How can we better, more effectively and efficiently, navigate change?

While there are possibly countless answers and responses to this question, I want to give you one simple truth that I believe almost always applies when it comes to change within an organization. I've seen this validated (positively AND negatively) time and time again. When it comes to change, there is one type and kind that people dislike more than any other:


As a rule of thumb, particularly when it comes to folk's routines, habits, likes, and familiarities, people don't like surprises. (You may say you do, but see what happens when someone messes with your coffee or daily routine.) Most people aren't delusional in thinking that they are going to be part of every decision and change that has to be made. That said, they don't want to be blindsided or caught off guard by it either. They want to know that they are important enough to be informed and prepared. After all, if a change is for the benefit of an organization, church, business, or relationship, and the people are what make up the organization, church, business, or relationship, then doesn't it make sense that the people should know about it? 

There are obviously limits to the sensible and the ridiculous in this matter. For instance, I don't for a second think that all the members of The Brook think they need to know - or even want to know - that we replaced the paper towel holders and soap dispensers in all the bathrooms on our campus last year. (If they DO, then they should be on our Buildings & Grounds team.) An organization would never go anywhere if it was/is stuck in the mire of micro-information. That's not why we exist. On the other hand, if the elders of our church felt like God was leading us to sell our property and move to another location in the city, this is most definitely something that even a half-interested and semi-invested church member (if there is such a thing) would and should want to know. How about showing up one Sunday and there's a FOR SALE sign out front. Surprise! 

One of the most difficult, yet most crucial and important aspects of navigating and leading change is knowing how and when to bring people in on it. There is no formula or secret equation. It's a matter of discernment and prayer. It involves confidence and clarity, with compassion and understanding. And no matter how delicately you handle it, there's always very likely going to be someone who isn't going to like it. That's life. That's leadership.

If you want to be a leader, you have to be willing to lead change.

But you can do it in a way that gives people the willingness, hunger, desire, and enthusiasm to actually follow. One of the greatest factors in whether or not this rings true for us is in our understanding that leading change = communicating change. 

Have vision. 
Be courageous. 
Pray consistently. 
Be humble. 
Seek wisdom. 
And communicate clearly.
People will follow.

"Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership. The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees. Leaders are those who would rather challenge what needs to change and pay the price than remain silent and die on the inside." Andy Stanley

Dig Deeper:
Joshua 1:1-9
Isaiah 41:10

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