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Making Room for Change

Bud Wrenn | Pinnacle Consulting

Bud Wrenn

March 2021

I like to say that people in ‘positions of leadership’ are really not ‘leaders’ unless they can lead people and teams through change.

Moving through change, for the majority of people, is something that probably doesn’t make their list of favorite things to do.  They may be what we‘ll call ‘change resistant’.  Some people, on the other hand, get easily bored in their work, and they like change because it can be a cure from the monotony of their job.  But these folks may not like change for the right reasons – for example, the right reason being the possibility that change will improve things.  Rather, they may like change simply because it gives them something better to do.  Maybe the change constitutes some ease from the boredom.  Let’s call these folks ‘change hyper’.  The change resistant and the change hyper folks who find themselves in positions of leadership will likely struggle, as neither of these mindsets are likely to facilitate a healthy change experience.

In many organizations today, the pace of work life is rapidly accelerating – seemingly every day – and so change is more and more the norm.  Things are moving so quickly that folks have to figure out how to maintain and raise standards of quality while at the same time significantly cutting development and production intervals – not to mention costs.  For this to happen, those in positions of leadership have to become real leaders of change – they have to become ‘change catalysts’. 

Change catalysts see change differently.  They may see – or ‘envision’ – an improved / desired alternative outcome that may be possible for a process, product, relationship, etc.  This ‘vision’ for this outcome becomes a driver for them, and so they are willing to move into the change simply because they know that change is the pathway to the desired outcome.  They see the change as the means, to get to the desired outcome, which is the end.   This is a healthy perspective on change.  

But what can someone in a position of leadership, and who is change resistant or change hyper, do to move toward becoming a change catalyst?  Well, the first thing is to know that it will likely take a lot of time and effort.  One has to commit to what is likely to be a process. There are a number of other things to consider as well.  But let’s focus for now on the fact that becoming a change catalyst probably has more to do with letting go of things than developing new skills or talents.  This is because Change Management and Leadership have to become established as specific functions in the work portfolios of folks in leadership positions, and there has to be ‘room’ in those work portfolios to work on change management and leadership.  Here are some of those things that people in positions of leadership may need to shed if they are going to move toward becoming change catalysts….

1) A skill that has become obsolete:  Probably most who read this have been confronted with acknowledging a work skill that has been ‘replaced’ by technology or innovation.  If you think you haven’t been confronted with this, then you’re probably in denial.  When this happens, one needs to simply acknowledge that obsolescence of the particular function, celebrate the success the skill has brought them, and move quickly toward learning and mastering a new way of doing things.

2) A fear of missing the mark:  Reasonable people don’t like to fail, and don’t like to be wrong.  The natural process of change is going to put people in positions in which failure is more likely, as change takes us into new territory, where things are more foggy than certain.  I tell clients that two things will bring down their ‘decision-making batting average’ – moving through change and moving up in terms of the organization chart.  In both cases, you will run into more ambiguous territory, where it is more difficult to make accurate ‘reads’ and assessments on situations.

3) Work that is no longer relevant to the position:  This is similar to the first item above – an obsolete skill.  But here we refer to actual functions of the job that perhaps were once relevant and necessary, but now they no longer are relevant or necessary.  This is often less a problem of the individual employee, and more with the organization’s culture.  Many companies seem to not be very good at figuring out what employees need to stop doing, as they add new functions to the role, often due to the change that the organization is going through.  But often, employees do hold on to functions that they do well, even after the usefulness of the task has passed.    This occurs usually because the employee does the function well, and he/she finds a sense of personal security in performing the function.

4) The feeling that YOU must have the answers:  Moving into a position of leadership will likely be a pretty demanding step.  New pressures – often around specific knowledge of the jobs that one supervises – lead to a manager feeling that she needs to know (nearly) everything about those jobs.  Again, some organizational cultures drive this expectation, as the value of knowledge may far exceed the value of leading others in their work.  But again, this situation can also be brought on by the manager herself – often out of a deep sense of personal responsibility.  They may feel it their duty to know these things.  But the reality is that every manager has finite capacity, and just the condition of rapid change puts even more pressure on that individual capacity.  In addition, leading people will require more energy – emotionally and mentally – than actually performing the technical work.

5) The work itself:  In other words – one has to delegate.  Ah – one of my favorite subjects!  Delegation is simply the distribution of work responsibilities and tasks to subordinates in such a way that balances the workload and maximizes the productivity of the individual subordinates, and the team as a whole.  Proper delegation appropriates healthy accountability and allows the team leader to balance her time and energy between direct work, supervision and development of staff.  

The practice of delegating work to others can be somewhat complex, for so many reasons.  One in charge of a team must delegate well, because holding on to work oneself leaves little time and energy to nurture personal and professional relationships and professional development that is needed to cause a team of folks to really gel.  Managers who have a hard time delegating – and I believe a high percentage of them do – find delegating difficult because of pressures that often arise out of their own personal insecurities.  And while the proper objective of delegation is to provide meaningful work opportunities that will help to empower the individual employee, often those who do delegate do it in a way that feels more like ‘dumping’ the work.   The implication here is that delegation is an active task that must be done intentionally.  I know that many see delegation primarily as ‘getting rid of work’ to give it to other people.  But delegation is one of the two or three most important things someone in leadership must do, as she is accountable for the overall performance and productivity of the team she leads. 

So, ultimately, many change resistant leaders find change hard for them to move into, not so much because they don’t like change, but because there’s not enough room for it in their ‘work portfolios’, because they are holding on to things they shouldn’t.  A positive, but maybe difficult step may be to take a look at the portfolio of your work, in light of these five aforementioned things that you can very possibly shed.  As you see parts of your work that you can either eliminate or move to others, fill that time and energy with focus and energy on figuring what can be changed, and planning for and executing on that change.


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