Leading (and not Managing) Through Change: Part I

March 5th, 2014 by Marcy Schwab

Leading (and not Managing) Through Change:  Part I

Nothing meaningful happens without change.  Change.  It is one of the most dreaded words in most organizations. Why do people get worked up over change and why does all work seem to stop in anticipation of changes that inevitably will happen?

Managing through change is one of the business world’s most difficult management challenges. At the heart of the matter is that it isn’t about management at all, but it’s about leadership.  Successful change in an organization requires leadership at all levels within an organization from the top of the house all of the way to the most junior member of the team.


What kind of Change Person are you?

Most people fall somewhere on the spectrum between two categories:

  1. Change is scary!

They would like to close their eyes and open them when it is over and hope nothing bad happened.


2.  Change is exciting!

The people on the end of this spectrum can’t wait for the next big shake up and want to see what comes. Change creates energy and they can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

Undoubtedly, you fall somewhere in the middle, but everyone leans to one side or other.  Wherever you fall, change can be scary and exciting.


What’s scary about change?

The anticipation of the unknown can throw a wrench into productivity and create a complete lack of direction for people. How much time did you spend contemplating what might be coming and going through a variety of scenarios? How much time did you spend talking to everyone else and hearing their theories? What did you accomplish in that time? What about your teammates? It’s hard to get your head around finishing up projects and especially hard to start new ones when you think that the world is about the change. What if what you are doing becomes irrelevant or falls into someone else’s lap? Scary to think you are wasting your time?

What’s going to happen to me? The most common question. If you aren’t hearing any facts about what’s coming, it’s impossible to know how it will impact you. Thoughts of change basically become paralyzing.


What’s exciting?

Nothing great ever happened without some type of change. If we stayed in the same place in the same job with the same people all day long, year in and year out, life would be really boring. Change happens to people or people initiate change. It’s so much easier when you’re the one initiating the change, but when change happens around you, you can embrace the possibilities and ask for what you want.



 This is your opportunity to lead rather than follow. It’s impossible to stop the conversations from happening. You can engage in them or choose not to speculate. Either way, there are some valuable leadership steps you can take, no matter your position in the company:

Don’t Ignore the Change

Acknowledging that change is happening is a good thing. Internally, think about how other changes helped you get to a good place before. Get more confident that change is good can really help. As conversations happen around the water cooler, talk about what’s possible instead of what could go wrong. Ignoring that change is coming won’t help anyone, but dwelling on it will cause more harm than good. Lead through positive communication and helping others see possibility.

Take Small Steps to Produce Value

Chances are that if the work you are doing was important before the change, it will continue to be important after the change happens. Even if you don’t own the same areas or have the same responsibilities, find small victories that you can work toward and declare. Keeping your head in the game and getting work done can be a powerful way to differentiate yourself from other colleagues who are too caught up in the swirl. Don’t be afraid to stand up and declare your intent to produce and then deliver. By taking positive steps to produce quality work and add value, you are demonstrating your commitment to the mission of the organization. That’s leadership by doing.

 Make Offers

While everyone else is busy trying to get the scoop, this is a perfect opportunity to see the proverbial “white space” and fill a void. As the senior team is trying to get their arms around who is going to go where (if that’s part of the conversation), your willingness to see an opportunity and improve a situation will not go unnoticed. This falls into the same category as taking small steps to produce value, but it goes a step further and helps you build your reputation in the organization. Another powerful leadership move.

 Change is hard but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing.  Instead of becoming a deer in the highlights, become a leader during times of change.


–        Acknowledge that change is happening.
–        Add value in the midst of chaos
–        Find opportunity and seize it

When have you seen this work?

One Response to “Leading (and not Managing) Through Change: Part I”

  1. March 09, 2014 at 3:47 am, Roberta said:

    This is so relevant! Being in the Healthcare industry there is nothing but change. Watching staff struggle through and trying to lead and reassure is indeed a great challenge. Fighting change is futile. Embrace change and find the opportunities within. However, it can still be most exhausting.