The Anatomy of Change Leadership

Why is it that so many leaders dread being made responsible for major change initiatives?

Easy. We know humans are, by nature, resistant to change. We want change to happen for us, not to us. And if the change is at all negative, brace yourself. It doesn’t get much more challenging than being the face of an unpopular change.

Still, who thought leading change would involve an anatomy lesson?

If you are leading an important change, it’s critical to connect on a human level – in three distinct ways.

The Hands of Change

People need to understand what the change is – and what specifically they need to do differently. If they don’t currently have the skills or resources, they’ll need access to those before they can implement the change.

This seems rather obvious, but when you miss the hands of change, it can create a very frustrating reaction. Most followers don’t expect empathetic change leadership (although it would go a long way), but they do expect clarity. When the expectations aren’t clear, change supporters can quickly become resisters.

The Head of Change

The “head” of change refers to its rationality. It’s not enough for leaders to communicate what the change is. They need to show why the change makes sense. What are the motives behind the change? Why is it better for the organization than the status quo – or a different change?

It may take more than one interaction to win the mind – especially for complicated change situations. Followers aren’t nonsensical. They may take some convincing.

The Heart of Change

This one is the most personal. Where the hands speak to effort and the head speaks to rationality, winning the heart requires an emotional connection. For all the logic there is, humans make decisions (including whether or not to see a change through) based on emotion.

Great change leaders take the final steps to communicate change in terms of what their teams find personally motivating. By implementing the change, they gain something of emotional value.

One hospital director gracefully connected all three. He was responsible for implementing a new efficiency measure in his department. Most employees don’t like being told to accomplish more with less, but the instead of sticking to one script, the director engaged all three.

He first explained what the changes were and what tasks each person would need to accomplish in order to dispel any confusion about the new initiative. That addressed the hands. Then he explained how the changes would benefit the department and the organization, citing time saved and resourced preserved. That addressed the head. It all made sense. But the real clincher was when he recalled the team members’ individual priorities.

“I know how important it is to you all to go home on time – and even a little early, if possible. You’ve shared this with me on many occasions. That goal is important to me as well. This new process will help us complete our shifts on time more consistently, and I’ll be available to coach and support each of you throughout the process.”

At this point, he won their hearts. The change wasn’t optional. But he framed it as a way to help the team get what they wanted, with him playing the role of supportive change coach instead of change dictator.

What is your approach for communicating the changes you are responsible to lead? Are you managing change from a checklist? Or are you winning your team over by creating a human connection?

When you take special care to connect to the hands, head and heart of your team – especially for difficult changes – don’t be surprised when you find yourself leading a team of former change resisters turned change champions.

This article is included in the Leadership-in-a-Box® program:

Leading Change

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