Leadership Skills Help Overcome Fear of Change
Great leaders have the ability to steer a team toward success through thick and thin. The most difficult phase for leaders is when radical change is imminent for the company’s growth or survival. Change is almost always feared and shunned. Leadership skills are needed to help people overcome their fear of change. Without everyone being on board and being part of the change that is needed, a company’s existence may be at stake. Even if the change is related to growth, change in leadership and thus direction or mission, a merger, or anything else, everyone in the company must be part of the change for the change to happen easily.
Why Is Change Feared?
Most people fear change because they do not feel in control of the situation. They fear the unknown that frequently comes with change. They assume that change means something negative, even if that is not the truth. As human beings, when we don’t know the truth the stories we tell ourselves always have a negative outcome…it’s just human nature. And since we can’t really know the outcome of change until we are through it, it’s no wonder that even the word change conjures up fear and anxiety for people.
Change is normally perceived as a negative, something that will create trouble rather than be a positive force. Most of all, people fear they lack the competence to face the changed environment. Those staff members who have been through change, either at your organization or others, don’t have the same anxiety around change as those who have never been through a major organizational change or upheaval. They understand that companies need to change in order to grow and not become extinct. They also understand that they will be able to endure whatever the outcome is of the change, perhaps not the way they would ideally choose, but they will survive.
Those who have not experience organizational change often, or the change was of little consequence to them, will have greater apprehension. This apprehension will be apparent in the questions they ask:
- How will this affect me? (as opposed to the organization as a whole)
- Will my role / benefits / compensation / ability to telecommute, etc., etc. be altered?
You’ll find they have conversations with many people in the company…colleagues, HR, managers…to see if they can find out something they don’t already know. You may find their work performance deteriorates as they focus on the ‘what ifs’ instead of the ‘what is’.
How Can Leadership Skills Help?
A leader needs to be sensitive to the fear and acknowledge the feelings as normal. Ignoring employees’ fear, undermining it, or ridiculing it, will not help; in fact, it has a tendency to make it worse. It takes enormous skill to take your employees along with you when change is required. Some of the critical steps that facilitate this process are:
Reality check about the company / business. If you want your team to respond to change with the same fervor as you do, they need to understand why it is necessary. Great leaders know that you must translate the ground reality to the entire team. They should know and internalize the fact that unless change is introduced the consequences to the organization may be severe. And you must be specific about those consequences, whether it be limited growth that will impact compensation and opportunities, or the long-term existence of the organization, and everything in between.
Participatory approach to change. The overall vision for the direction of change will come from the senior leadership and this often leaves employees feeling left out and out of control. A good leader will ensure that, whenever possible, a considerable amount of participatory interaction takes place before change is introduced. Note, the key phrase here is ‘whenever possible’. There are many situations that will occur where employees cannot and should not be involved. Helping them understand which situations they can be part of, as well as the situations that preclude their involvement, is part of the participatory approach.
One-to-one counseling. Before change is introduced, a good leader would try to counsel people who would bear the greater brunt of the change. This, of course, depends on what is occurring. Bringing in a new CEO can be shared and discussed. Human resources may not want you to discuss potential downsizing unless and until it becomes a reality, even though this may impact many. Consider what topics are off limits to discussion before they occur, and which are on the table as acceptable topics. Whenever possible, discussion potential changes in advance with your staff.
Change is inevitable in all companies. In fact, change happens monthly, if not weekly, in most organizations. A new project is created, someone is promoted, a valuable team member leaves the company, new hires are brought on, new positives are introduced, new standard ways of doing business are created…change happens all the time in companies.
If you, as a leader, can help people recognize and understand that change isn’t an event, but something that occurs regularly in every business as part of the business’ growth and development, then when bigger changes occur your entire organization will be better prepared.
Being a leader can be challenging, even with the status quo. But that never happens, does it? Our e-book, Just Follow Our Tracks to Being a Great Leader: Leadership and Business, provides ideas on how to navigate through change. Grab a copy today!
©2017 Incedo Group, LLC