Nothing frightens people more than change they can’t understand and they can’t control.
It’s no secret there’s lots of change in the world. You see it everywhere. The high divorce rate, for example, has totally upset the way things are supposed to be — or at least the way they used to be. Sixty years ago parents had lots of kids. Today kids have lots of parents.
And it’s no secret that most people oppose change — even the good change. I talked about that the last two weeks in my “Tuesday Tips.” As Albert Einstein noted, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Despite the opposition of others, you often have the job of leading others through change. Whether you’re a CEO, a department manager, or a parent, it’s your responsibility to get people on board and moving forward.
How do you do that? Well that, of course, is one of the things I discuss in my program on “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.”
But let me get you started. Here are two things you’ve got to do if you’re going to be an effective change leader.
First, CREATE A CLEAR, POSITIVE VISION OF THE FUTURE. You’ve got to be clear about where you want to go before you can take others with you.
I think of J.C. Penney — the man, not the store. When he was in his 80’s, he was speaking to the marketing classes at Arizona State University. One of the students asked him, “Where do you buy your suits?” He answered, “At J.C. Penney, of course. I get a discount, you know.”
On a more serious note, another student asked, “How’s your eyesight?” Mr. Penney thought for a while, then clearly and crisply said, “You know, my eyesight may not be very good, but my vision has never been better.”
Vision is seeing the bigger, better, brighter possibilities in the future. As Saint Exupery noted, “A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock pile when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.”
You can’t expect anybody else to change, or follow you into the change, if you can’t even see it. You’ve got to do a little thinking and visualizing first.
Of course, you don’t have to visualize every detail of the change. You don’t have to have the change all figured out before you start. That may take forever.
Just start. As Phillipe Vernier so accurately stated: “Do not wait for great strength before setting out, for immobility will weaken you further. Do not wait to see clearly before starting. One has to walk toward the light. When you take the first step, accomplish that tiny little act, the necessity of which may be apparent only to you, you will find that the effort, rather than exhausting your strength, has doubled it — and you already see more clearly what you have to do next.”
Once you’ve formulated your vision of the change, once you’ve communicated your vision to others, YOU’VE GOT TO GIVE PEOPLE SOME TIME TO ACCEPT THE CHANGE.
Let people chew on the change for a while. Let them get used to it. You can’t expect people to instantly accept your entire change initiative all at once. No one tests the depths of a river with both feet.
The great 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, learned that lesson. When he completed his poetic translation of Homer’s Iliad, he was invited by Lord Halifax to his estate to read it to him. During the reading, Lord Halifax stopped Pope several times, telling the author there was something wrong with certain passages.
Pope was at a loss. He didn’t know what to do about Halifax’s criticisms. Halifax was, after all, one of the most influential people in England at the time, as well as a personal confidant of the king. So Pope asked Sir Samuel Garth, a well known physician and poet of the day, for advice.
Garth had been at the reading and knew the predicament Pope was in. Garth suggested that Pope not change a word of his translation. Rather, Garth proposed that Pope wait a few months and then call up Lord Halifax again. At the next reading, Pope should read the passages that Halifax had criticized, asking his lordship if he were pleased with the “revised” version.
Pope took Garth’s advice and went on to see Halifax three months later. Halifax was extremely pleased with the passages at this second reading. He declared, “Now they are perfectly right! Nothing could be better.” With Halifax’s approval, Pope went on to have his translation published as he had originally written it.
People often object to things the first time they hear them. It may be changes in your organization’s policies, procedures, products, and services. It may even be changes at home. Some people automatically say “no” to every kind of change.
I suppose there are two reasons for that. Some people aren’t familiar with your ideas, and they respond to new ideas with a fear of the unknown. And other people are egotistical. To feel good about themselves, they have to suggest some way you could change your change.
When your ideas or your suggested changes get turned down, do what Pope did. Give people some time to forget about their objection. Make a small change or two in your proposal — if you can. After all, no idea or no plan is perfect.
Then go back to the people you are trying to influence. See if your revised proposal suits them. They’ll probably be pleased that you took their advice, regardless of how unimportant the changes may be. And your ideas will probably seem a lot more acceptable the second time around.
Those are two strategies for leading others through change. There are dozens more.
You can pick up some of those strategies on my CD entitled, “RISK: If You’re Not Living On The Edge, You’re Taking Up Too Much Space.”
Action: Think of a change you are trying to implement. And think of a person who is objecting to your change. Then apply Pope’s strategy. Get his/her input, wait a while, and go back for his/her approval.