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Coaching Concepts: Leading Change by Understanding Transitions

I was on a coaching call recently with an up-and-coming leader in his organization who had been tasked with implementing some new technologies and systems across several new acquisitions. With every turn, he was finding resistance. People liked their spreadsheets. People defended their practices as if his change was an indictment. People challenged the authority of this leader because of his relative youth.

He wasn’t getting anywhere with his implementations, and he was stuck and frustrated.

Following a Leadership Academy session I facilitated on leading change, he and I set up a call to talk about where he was and strategize a way out. During my session, I discuss the work of William Bridges and we talk about how change begins with some sort of ending. People often feel a sense of loss. For some, that’s fleeting, but for others that can become a more protracted state. So, we talked about what these new partners might be feeling and what their sense of loss might be about to better understand their resistance.

We also talked about the work of John Kotter and his 8-step model for leading change. We focused on step 1 which is around creating a sense of urgency for the change. We talked about what pain points these partners might have, what ideas for improvement that might be obscured by their protection of the status quo and their fear of loss.

With these two frameworks in mind, the next steps became clear for this young leader. He needed to go talk to these partners. He needed to go not to tell them about the change he wanted and needed to implement but to hear them talk about their work. What worked well? What seemed sub-optimal? What parts of their work do they wish could be automated? What parts were just annoying?

This conversation naturally opened the door to ideas for solutions. It reframed the change this young leader was trying to implement from the imposition of a new technology to the prospect of a new solution to pain points many of them had dealt with and adapted to over years. In short, people were a lot more open to a new solution than to a new technology. 

Kudos to this leader for being so reflective and empathetic in his desire to be more strategic and effective. He stepped back and reframed his own situation and frustration, reevaluated what he knew and understood about the resistance he was facing, and then returned to his change leadership with a new approach. And, it worked.


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