Don't Fear Change – Lead It

Don’t look back fondly.  Look forward bravely.

All progress is the result of change. However, not all change is progress.

Just take a look at the way things were in the United States in 1907. It will boggle your mind.

In 1907, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years old and the top three causes of death were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea. Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education. Only 14% of the homes had a bathtub and most women washed their hair once a month, using Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstore. Back then, pharmacists said, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”

There were only 8000 cars in the U.S. and 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph. And the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee had more people living in each of their states than sparsely populated California. Indeed, the population of Las Vegas, Nevada was only 30!

The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year and was paid 22 cents per hour. Sugar cost four cents a pound and coffee cost fifteen cents a pound. Only 8% of the homes had a telephone, and a three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.00.

The good news in all of that … there were only 230 reported murders in the entire United States for the entire year of 1907.

The point is simple. There’s no sense in arguing about the existence of change, the pace of change, or the direction of the change. It makes a great deal more sense to LEAD it. And whether you’re a CEO, Vice President, Director, Manager, Supervisor, Team Leader, Parent, or Spouse, there are several things you can do to LEAD change more effectively and more positively.

Here are a few tips to improve your change leadership.

1. Project confidence.

Whatever “leadership” position you might hold, you must remember that people are always watching you. If you project a certain degree of confidence … if you look and talk like you believe in the change … the other people around you will get on board with you. Or as I often tell my audiences, “Be the change you want to see in others.”

The opposite is also true. As Robert J. Maricich, CEO and President of Century Furniture Industries, points out, “To lead in an environment of ambiguity, you must defeat anxiety in yourself so that you don’t risk infecting the people around you.”

Remember, attitudes are contagious. Just make sure yours is worth catching.

2. Shun the ruts and climb the limbs.

To some extent, we all like the ruts we’re in … if for no other reason than the fact that they’re familiar or comfortable. Oh sure, the ruts may not be all that great, but we’re used to them. So the rationale goes … WHY rock the boat?

WHY indeed? Because all progress is the result of change. If you want anything at work, in your life, or in your relationships to get better, then you’ve got to leave your old familiar ruts. You’ve got to stop doing things the way you’ve always done them and hoping things will get better. They won’t. As J. Paul Getty, the founder of the Getty Oil Company, said, “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”

By contrast, to improve anything, you’ve got to go out on a limb once in a while, because that’s where the fruit is. As Sir Francis Bacon wrote so eloquently, “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must employ methods never before attempted.”

Of course, when you lead change by example, when you take more risks, you may fail. But that’s not all bad. People at work and people at home will actually respect you more if they see you taking risks and failing once in a while than they would if they never saw you taking any risks. If they only see you playing it safe … because you’re afraid of change … they may pity you, but they won’t respect you.

In fact, in the process of climbing out on a limb, you may discover wonderful things about yourself and your potential. As poet T.S. Eliot observed, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” And corporate spokesperson Jason Vines says, “You don’t know where the edge is unless you are willing to go over it once in a while.”

And finally,

3. Ask the “make it easier” question.

There are very few change leadership strategies that will work in every situation. However, there is a question you can ask employees (or even your teammates and kids) that will help them make the desired change.

For example, the senior management at one company had made the decision to switch the software used by one of the departments. The employees in that particular department, naturally, weren’t happy about the turmoil it promised to bring them … the time it would take to learn the new software and the difficulty it would create in trying to meet project deadlines in the meantime.

But just as the employees started to grumble, their supervisor made things easier by sitting down with them and asking, “Okay, what are you going to need to make this new software work for you?”

This simple question changed the employees’ perception of the situation and got them thinking in positive terms of how to make the best of the transition. They started to discuss the necessary training and task shuffling instead of fretting. They began to take charge of those aspects that most affected them. And handing over control … or offering to help … is a major part of leading any change.

Action:  Look for an opportunity to ask the “make it easier question.”  Find a person who is struggling with change and ask them how you can make it easier for them to get through the change.