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  • Writer's pictureMirrorbox Leadership Lab

Are You Managing Change or Leading Change?

As we face the dawn of our next major technological revolution – artificial intelligence –

the rate of change continues to increase at a mind-numbing pace. What this means for

leader is that to be successful you not only have to know how to manage change but

also how to lead through it. So, what’s difference between managing change and

leading change?

If you type in Change Management into a Google search, you get a myriad of different

websites and articles that describe it as a plan or a process. While the steps highlighted

in these well thought out frameworks are important, if you don’t have strong change

leadership in place there is a high likelihood that the change initiative will fail. What

change management often overlooks is the human and emotional aspect of change,

whereas. change leadership focuses squarely on this element.

As a species we have survived on this Earth by creating predictability for ourselves.

Being able to predict and choose the safest path forward was a trait that allowed us to

evolve. It’s no wonder that even today, when the existential threats once experienced

by our ancestors no longer confront, we still cling tightly to the need for certainty and

stability. It’s the very reason why change is hard for so many. We are hardwired not to

like it. Yet, when change is initiated and implemented, leaders still get surprised by the

resistance to it.

In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, came up with a framework for the emotions that

someone experiences when they realize they are terminally ill – the Five Stages of

Grief. This model was later adapted to apply to change, which if you think about it

makes sense, because change almost always encompasses some form of loss, grief, or

letting go.

This emotional journey is one that all of us have experienced at one point or another when confronted with change – personal or professional.   As we realize that our current reality, one we have become so accustomed to, gets put into question we resist.    We hold on to this place of comfort because it makes us feel as if we are still in control.  Once we realize that the momentum of the change is too much for us to push against, our sense of control erodes, and we feel lost.   We are at the bottom of the emotional valley in a state of paralysis and depression.  The time we spend at this low point is unique to every individual and eventually most of us find the inspiration, resilience, and support to pick ourselves up and begin making the climb out of the valley and up the emotional curve.  What this change curve does so well is it normalizes a very real part of who we are as human beings. The sooner we can realize this, the easier the process of change can be.  

As a leader, leading through change starts with leading yourself through the change.  What this means is building the self-awareness for where you are on the change curve.  How are you feeling about the change?  What does this change mean for you? What is the case for change and how does it relate to you?  It’s only by pausing and reflecting on these questions that you can begin the process of working through the change. As we discussed above, the process of change is rife with emotions.  The only way out is to go through it which requires resolve and commitment.  You must be committed to working through your own unique and personal process of change.  It requires frequent reflection to gauge where you are on the curve.  It also requires the intentionality to experiment with the new ways of being that are necessary due to the change. It’s no small task and if you can’t do this for yourself as a leader it will be hard to support the people you lead through the same process.  

What often happens in organizations is that leaders are made privy to the change before the rest of the organization.  When the change is eventually made public, leaders are further along the change curve, perhaps even making their way out of the valley (assuming they have done the work necessary).  and this creates an emotional gap, as the rest of the organization is still at the beginning of the curve.  Herein lies the key to change leadership.  As we discussed above, the more self-aware and intentional you can be at navigating this emotional journey the smoother it will be.  Change leadership is about helping people build this self-awareness and intentionality.  It’s about shepherding them along the emotional journey that is change.  It requires that you stay connected to the people you lead and understand where they are.  It requires presence, empathy, vulnerability, vision, effective communication to name just a few of the core skills required to be an effective leader of change.  Most important it requires that you make this aspect of change a priority for you as a leader.  

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