The missing ingredient in leading change: let’s talk courage!

Throughout my experience and life as an agent of change I have often heard and read that to manage change we must have great methodologies and processes in order to ensure that it is neat and somewhat procedural.

Well that’s the theory of things but my experience has been much messier than any neat methodology or process that I have come across so far. Many models, frameworks and theories really do a good job of giving you all the big pieces and lots of food for thought and yes it can be argued (and maybe even proven) that without certain pieces of theories/frameworks change just won’t be smooth and/or successful.

I truly believe that the frameworks are great guideposts and markers that allow us to keep sight of the big pieces but myChange Leadership Ingredient analysis of what is missing (more often than not) are the following ingredients:

  1. Courage: the ability as leaders to encourage and inspire ourselves to demonstrate courage during times of change. You may be asking: what do you mean by courage and how would courage manifest?  I believe that it manifests in the stories we choose to tell (or not tell people) about what is really going on and to reveal our own fears as leaders and agents of change.I believe courage is needed to consistently tell the truth, even when the truth isn’t pretty or easy to tell.Much has been written about the ego and how it can be an entity that stops us from being authentic and demonstrating our “weaknesses.” True leaders will have the courage to set aside their egos and tell people that they don’t know, that they too are scared or that they don’t have the answers. Organizations are far too invested in having the answers versus finding a solution; by that I mean that we are often forced as leaders to quickly give an answer to a problem and are not allowed the time and real effort required to finding a long-term solution. We are often rewarded for quick fixes and not long-term solutions.
  2. The right to make mistakes without repercussions: this in many ways is attached to number 1. Leaders are often under pressure to play it safe because the idea of making the wrong decision or not having an answer often comes with big consequences. Therefore, we often find leaders and agents of change playing it safe. We won’t tell the Board that to make this change happen successfully we may have to take a hit to productivity for a period of 6 months; while people transition and master the new tool/process etc. We will instead play it safe and cut corners in order to ensure that we give them the results that they want-which may often be the band aid and short term result.

In the last few years I have had many conversations that were not easy or fun but I pushed myself to have them as I really believed that it was the right thing to do. I have had to tell project sponsors that they were not stepping up to their role and not providing leadership to the people who they are supposed to be leading.

Leadership as we know is an art and not a science and requires a lot of heart and soul. People do not follow leaders solely because they are savvy in the latest management theories or concepts; they follow them because they trust them, are inspired by them and feel safe in the knowledge that the leader would not knowingly misguide or deceive them.

That said I am often confronted with leaders who, during times of change, hesitate to share information, tell their teams what they are thinking and state clearly the vision of the future. I am often having conversations with leaders around the need to speak to their teams and people about the change and what is happening. The response I often get is “we are not ready to communicate because we don’t have all the answers.” I try and convince them that people are not necessarily looking for all the answers but looking to be given some information and the courtesy to be respected enough to be asked for input.

There seems to be a great need to only communicate when the message is perfect; when the details are all known; when we have all the answers etc. The truth is that it will never be perfect! The timing will never be right (as you can always find an excuse or reason why it is not); the message will never be entirely complete (as change is a process and not an event).

What change leaders need is not strictly a great communication strategy with carefully crafted messages and channels. What change leaders need is the courage to have open and honest conversations with the very people whose hearts they need to engage. Create forums that will allow for open dialogue; share your story, your perspective and most importantly listen to what others have to say and allow them the space to speak from their hearts and minds. It is amazing what can happen when we create collaborative processes that allow leaders to demonstrate “I am here and ready to support you in whatever way necessary in order to successfully manage through this period of change.”

Courage is not about flexing your muscles and using your brawn; it is about opening your heart, lending an ear and stepping up to the plate as a leader who puts people first.



Change Management MontrealCaroline Samne is a partner at “The Pillars”.

As a facilitator and agent of change, Caroline designs, develops and implements change strategies that are successful the first time around. Caroline believes that successful change in organizations is largely based on the ability to understand the human and organizational dynamics that encompass the organization. Being able to adapt and thrive in times of change is no longer an option but a key need in today’s world. Organizational Success is built on agility and the ability to stay ahead of the crowd. In order to be nimble organizations must embrace change and do so in proactive ways.

Caroline holds a BA in Psychology and a Master’s in Human Systems Intervention. She has been working in the field of community and organizational development since 1991. Her work has included large-scale change interventions, group facilitation, change management, strategic planning, group development, team building and evaluation process development. Caroline has worked in the Public, Para-public, Private and Community-based sectors. In 2002, Caroline started teaching part-time at ConcordiaUniversity in the Faculty of Applied Human Sciences.

Caroline has trained with Merrelyn Emery (Search Conferences), Edie Seashore (Use of self as an agent of change and Communication and Feedback), Gervase Busch (Appreciative Inquiry), Diana Whitney (Appreciative Inquiry), Kathy Dannemiller (Whole Scale change), among others.


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