Leading People Through Change


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Establish trust and positive relationships

By Louise “Toni” Moore

Human reactions to change are powerful and complex. In times of change, leaders must provide stability, engender trust, and support individuals through the often-choppy waters. When faced with change in their schools or organizations, great leaders focus on two main areas: the people and the process.

Much discussion on the topic of change focuses on an organizational perspective — the strategic execution of the change effort. Often missed is the importance of the individual leader’s ability to lead change on a personal level. We need to explore the very human thoughts, emotions, and reactions people have to change and discern how an effective leader can support them.

Change requires people to do things differently. Successful change begins and ends with the individual. An entire organization does not change until each member has changed. With fear and resistance being the two primary human reactions to change, the leader’s role becomes one of helping people overcome these roadblocks by tapping into natural human motivations.

A sensitive leader can:

Show empathy and support. When facing change, people must let go of the old way of doing things. An effective leader listens patiently to learn what people feel they are losing, allowing them to slowly let go and prepare to change.

Help others understand the need for change. People are more willing to let go if they can see that the old way of doing things is less favorable than the new way.

Encourage involvement. Early in and throughout the change process, invite ideas from as many teachers and constituents as possible.

Make them part of shaping the ways they will integrate the change. This creates a sense of ownership and fuels energy to propel the change forward.

Build in rewards. Celebrate early successes as people begin to engage in the change process. Simple rewards such as praise and acknowledgment can go a long way in keeping teachers and staff encouraged and motivated during periods of change.

Provide and encourage training and support. People will not adopt new behaviors if they do not know how. Support teachers and staff by offering opportunities for them to develop the skills, confidence, and understanding necessary to promote the desired behaviors that will move the change needle forward. It often works well to team up early adopters with resisters to help those who are more reluctant to change move forward. We all know that teachers respect their peers and are most comfortable learning from them.

Finally, clear communication throughout the change process is key. Successful leaders communicate what will change and clearly explain why change is needed. Leaders who explain the purpose of a change and connect it to the school’s values create a stronger buy-in and sense of urgency for that change.

Teachers and staff must also see the value of the change for themselves. What’s in it for them? Letting employees know that a change is good for the school is no longer enough. To effectively respond to this concern, connect with employees using both emotion and logic. Connect first emotionally, then win their hearts and minds with the value of change.

Wishing you many blessings on your journey through change!

Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD, is an educational consultant at the University of Dayton.

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