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How to Lead a Change You Dislike

change leadership Sep 23, 2022

Written by Roxanne Brown

We’ve all been there. You’ve been given a task you don’t believe in or you have to make a decision you hate making or both. So what do you do when you have to lead a change you don’t like?

The first thing to do is get your mind right.

Now is the time to ask yourself:

  • What’s bothering you about this change?
  • Were you taken by surprise?
  • Did you have completely different expectations?
  • Do you fundamentally disagree with the decision?
  • Is your ego getting in the way? What is it?

Put some self-reflection time in to understand why you’re not on board. This self-awareness is useful for managing your mood.

Now think about your people, the people you need to lead through this, the people that are impacted by this change.

  • How do you expect they’ll react and why?
  • How surprised are they likely to be?
  • What will they need to understand?
  • What support will they need?

Start deciding how you will communicate the change and how you will invest in supporting your people.

Now try some visioning.

How do you want this to go, ideally? For you and for your people. Imagine the ideal. Why? Because even though you don’t have complete control, you do have a significant amount of control over how the change is experienced. You control your own experience of the change and you certainly have significant influence on how your people will experience the change.

If you think the change will be hard then it will be.

If you think your people won’t like the change because people don’t like change, then, as the leader, you’ve pretty much sealed their fate. If you expect (and decide) it’s going to be bad, there is no doubt that it absolutely will be. It will meet your expectations.

If, on the other hand, you decide your experience of the change could be how you envision it ideally, then you’ve got a much better shot at something great. And, if you envision it ideally for your people, then they have a shot at something better too.

Let’s just say this: People have thanked me for how a difficult change was handled, a change that had a huge impact on their lives, and that’s largely because I started by envisioning the ideal for them and then worked hard to figure out how to make that happen. You can do this. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Some constructive tactics:

1. Take stock of what you’re most concerned about. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? What would happen if you didn’t make this change? What would be the impact in six months or a year? What positive actions can you take to prevent the worst from happening? What could you do to create a positive outcome? Dale Carnegie writes about this in his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” — if you have the book, see chapter 4, How to Analyze and Solve Worry Problems, for a useful exercise. Another great exercise comes from TED Talk presenter Tim Ferriss: Why you should define your fears instead of your goals. Here’s a tool to help you clarify your concerns.

2. Decide how you’re going to show up for your people every day. Your people are tuned into you, like it or not. Your behavior and words send signals all the time about what’s important and how things are going. If you’re worried, chances are they’ve picked up on that and they’re worried too. My friend Mark Becker (also a change expert) always says it’s important to check in on your emotions when you’re leading a difficult change. He suggests that, for example, on your commute to work or before you begin your online meetings, ask yourself how you feel right then. Ask yourself, how do you need to show up for your people? Then make the decision to act accordingly. Remember who you are — their leader — and then act accordingly. This is meaningful whether in person, on video, or over the phone.

3. Start executing strategies to take care of yourself. You’re under stress so you need to help yourself manage that. No kidding, don’t discount this. How you feel will come across and will only bring you more stress if you ignore it. People around you will suffer because you impact the people in your world. You matter, you’re important. Take care of yourself.

4. Get help from a coach, trusted advisor, or mentor to keep you going. Find someone that can be a safe place to talk through what’s on your mind, to vent, and to get perspective. Make it a regular thing. That periodic emotional release will help you find your inner calm and focus back on what matters most.

This is not an easy thing to do, but you can do this. These are not easy times, but your people need you. Once you decide to lead this change well, you’re already halfway there.