Hey leaders, let me ask you a question: Do you ever feel like the burden of successfully implementing an organizational change rests squarely on your shoulders? I know that I have frequently felt that way and I’m sure you have too.
Tell me if this sounds like your typical to-do list when leading a change effort:
- Build the most persuasive business case to convince people of the need for change
- Craft the perfect communication plan to address every possible question
- Patiently address every concern with empathy so people “feel good” about the change
- Make the change as easy as possible so people aren’t disrupted too much
- Control the pace of change so people don’t have to change too much too fast
Notice the similarity in all those items? You, the leader, is responsible for everything related to the change effort. No wonder you feel exhausted.
These are all important items that need to be addressed when implementing change. However, the result of the leader assuming responsibility for convincing employees to change, getting their buy-in, and making change as easy as possible actually creates learned helplessness among employees. Leaders babying employees through change denies them the personal growth of developing resiliency and readiness to change.
In her book No Ego—How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, Cy Wakeman offers two commonly held beliefs about change that actually force leaders to shoulder all the burden and rob employees of personal responsibility in adapting to the change.
Myth #1: Change is Hard—Wakeman says that leaders who believe this tend to over-manage and under-lead. If the goal is to make change easier and more palatable for people, then leaders end up shouldering all the burden for the success of the change initiative (see the to-do list above). This creates a culture of learned helplessness, and when employees figure change isn’t their responsibility, they fail to develop resiliency and readiness for what’s next.
Myth #2: We Can’t Handle So Much Change—The marketplace never stops changing, Wakeman points out, and it’s indifferent to people feeling uncomfortable or disturbed. Resistance to change usually comes from those who find themselves unready and they fear being exposed. Instead of asking “How can we make this change easier for you?,” leaders should be asking “How can we build your skills to be better at change?” Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary, and neutral. They coach people through a process of incremental growth to build their skill at being ready for change.
So the next time you’re faced with leading a change effort, question your long-held beliefs about how you should lead. Your efforts to make change easier for employees, or to slow down the pace of change, may actually make the change effort more difficult. Instead, teach your employees how to exhibit self-leadership and take responsibility for developing their own readiness for change.