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Struggling with a Change?

Have you ever been through a leadership change and found yourself thinking:

  • I can’t work here. This new guy is taking us in the wrong direction.

  • The new leadership doesn’t have a clue who we are and what we have been doing.

  • I’ve been working here 15 years, and she hasn’t shown any respect to us old-timers.

These are all statements either I have said myself during a time of transition or heard from a client going through a leadership change.

Change and transition are not easy. Especially when you had a solid, trusting relationship with the old guard and didn’t want them to go. It’s important to recognize the difference between the change itself and your attachment to the past.

Change vs. Transition

First, let’s talk about the difference between change and transition.

Change is simply the event. The actual date when the old boss left and the new leader showed up. It’s pretty straightforward - the facts.

For example, let’s say Joe had been your boss for 10 years at the hospital. You worked together closely for five of those years. Sally came in to replace him after turning around a technology company and has little experience in health care. These are the facts about the change.

Transition is about the psychological reorientation to the change. For example:

  • Joe was the boss that had helped you build your career. If it weren’t for Joe, you’d have quit a long time ago.

  • You worked hard with Joe on building a culture based on teamwork. Sally is just focused on the numbers.

Can you see the difference?

Dealing with a transition is harder and more complex than change, but vitally as important.

I have been serving on a board for a community college where I have also been an instructor for many years. The college president recently retired. In many ways, I was thrilled for him. He had given so much energy, passion, and commitment, and it was time for him to transition to something new.

The new president, however, is very different. She has a different background and focus, but in her own way is passionate about the success of our college. However, it’s been a year now and I am still struggling with the transition.

More recently, I’ve started to experience some peace, meaning I am almost to the other side.

It may have more to do with my decision to step off the board and focus on my commitment to teaching.

I just could not adapt to her style of leadership. There were and are style differences. I had imagined the new president would be interested in the mentoring program that had been set-up when the old president left. She was not. I had judgements and distance around her choice.

In board meetings, when I attempted to address my concerns, I interpreted her response as defensive.

I sought feedback from other board members about my style and how I was handling the change. What I discovered was the rest of the board saw things differently. Perhaps, I might not be giving the new leader a chance.

I stepped back and really took a look inside.

I had a long history with the old president. I interpreted some of Sally’s changes as being disrespectful of our previous work. The new leader did have some strong disagreements with how the old president handled some financial and operational decisions. Though I may not have agreed, I did appreciate the new president had a different focus.

Finally, I realized that I did not want to get in the way of a new direction align with a majority of the board.

Now having stepped away, I’m at another change point. I have energy for new adventures. I also can see that the new president is generating energy and possibility with who she is working with.

Sometimes the real issue with a change isn’t the change. It’s the transition or psychological impact on those involved. Transition is deeply personal. However, from a business perspective, if you don’t address and support yourself and your people, in dealing with transition, the change will fail.

In my situation, I believe the board’s feedback to me, and my willingness to look deeper, helped me stop making the change wrong.

Where is change happening or has happened in your organization, team or life?

If you’re struggling with a change, check inside for what you are holding on to or fighting for. If you are experiencing a similar situation like the one above, it may be time to get some support on dealing with transition for yourself and for your team.

New leadership deserves a chance to blossom. Work on your internal issues and see if you can look differently at the new leader. Maybe you won’t like the seeds when they sow, and you’ll find it is time to move on, but don’t cut off something new before it has a chance to bloom.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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