Leaders are continually faced with trying to change something. And — if you’re honest — you’ve already thought about backing off. Change seems too difficult. You’ve watched friends get hurt trying to lead similar change. You’ve heard the voices of opposition get a little louder. You really don’t want to be afraid to open your inbox every morning. If you've ever tried to lead change you can probably relate.
Change is harder than it needs to be because it’s more mysterious than it needs to be. And it doesn’t need to be quite that mysterious. Change has dynamics; and the dynamics can be learned. If the church (and other organizations) is going to reach its potential, change isn’t optional, it’s necessary. So, if you’re navigating change, here are some key principles to help you maintain clear thinking amidst the sea of emotions that leading change brings:
1. People aren’t opposed to change nearly as much as they are opposed to change they didn’t think of.
Everybody’s in favor of their ideas, but most organizational change is driven by leadership. All real change is. So you just need to realize that most people will come on board. You just need to give them time until a leader’s idea spreads widely enough to be owned. And by the way, great ideas eventually resonate.
2. Change is hard because people crave what they already like.
You have never craved a food you hadn’t tried, and change operates on a similar dynamic. Your people want what they’ve seen because people never crave what they haven’t seen. That’s why vision is so key – you need to paint a clear enough picture that people begin to crave a future they haven’t lived.
3. Leaders crave change more than most people do because they’re, well, leaders.
Your passion level is always going to be naturally and appropriately higher than most people’s when it comes to change. Just know that’s how you’re wired and don’t get discouraged too quickly if your passion for change is higher than others. You’re the leader.
4. Most of the disagreement around change happens at the strategy level.
Most leaders stop at aligning people around a common mission and vision, but you also need to work hard at aligning people around a common strategy. It’s one thing to agree that you passionately love God, it’s another to create a cutting edge church that unchurched people flock to. One depends on vision; the other is a re-engineering around a common strategy. When people are aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy, so much more becomes possible.
5. Usually no more than 10% of the people you lead are opposed to change.
Okay, maybe it goes to 30% at the high water mark. But are you really going to sacrifice the majority and the future for the sake of a small group of opposition?
6. Loud does not equal large.
Just because the opponents of change are loud doesn’t mean they’re a large group. The most opposed people make the most noise. Don’t make the mistake most leaders make when they assume large = loud. Almost every time, it doesn’t.
7. Most people opposed to change do not have a clearly articulated vision of a preferred future.
They just want to go back to Egypt. And you can’t build a better future on a vision of the past. Remember that when they tell you about how good things used to be.
8. Fear of opposition derails more leaders than actual opposition.
You will spend a ton of time living through your fears. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the determination to lead through your fears. By the way, this does wonders for your faith.
9. Buy-in happens most fully when people understand why, rather than what or how.
What and how are inherently divisive. Someone’s always got a better, cheaper, more expensive, faster, shorter, longer way to do what you’re proposing. So focus on why when you’re communicating. Why reminds us how why we got into this in the first place. And why motivates. Always start with why, finish with why and pepper all communication with why.
10. Unimplemented change will always become relief or regret.
One day, you’ll be so glad you did. Or you’ll wish you had. Remember that.
11. Incremental change brings about incremental results.
You’ll be tempted to compromise and reduce vision to the lowest common denominator: incremental change. Just know that incremental change brings incremental results. And incrementalism inspires no one.
12. Transformation happens when the change in question becomes part of the culture.
You won’t transform an organization until people no longer want to go back to the way it was. You can change some things in a year and almost everything in 5 years. But transformation happens when people own the changes. That’s often 5-7 years; only then do most people not want to go back to Egypt.
13. The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.
Successful organizations create a culture of change because they realize that success tempts you to risk nothing until decline forces you to reexamine everything. Keep changing.
The Problem With Incremental Change
So you want to bring about change but you’re afraid of the pushback that you know the change will create? Totally understand that. So you’re tempted to do what many leaders have done. Instead of bringing about the deep or radical change you know needs to happen, you decide to introduce change incrementally.
Rather than remove the furniture you know needs to go, you move it an inch a week, hoping nobody will notice.
Rather than fire the poor performer, you transfer him to a new position and hope one day he’ll leave.
Rather than kill the programs that need to go, you add a few new ones instead and skirt the real issue.
Rather than make all the changes you know need to be made, you create a 10 year time line, thinking that people will better accept the change the longer you delay.
Sound familiar? What’s wrong with this picture?
The problem with incremental change is that it brings incremental results. If you want incremental results, then embrace incremental change. The reality is that most leaders don’t want incremental results. You dream of significant results. Of radically different results. Yet for some reason too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will usher in radically different results. It won’t. Radical change brings the potential for radical results. Incremental change never does.
Too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will bring radical results. Why Do Leaders Fall For This? Why do you as a leader talk yourself into believing that incremental change will produce the results you’re looking for? There are at least three reasons:
1. You fear people’s reaction to significant change.
You’ve seen other leaders get crucified for ushering in change. And you don’t want that to be you. Fear is one of the main reasons change isn’t happening fast enough in the church or in many organizations today. Wouldn't it be a terrible thing to stand before God one day and explain that the main reason you didn’t do what you were called to do is because you were afraid? Do you really want fear to be your final epitaph as a leader? Or would you rather go down trying?
2. Past opposition to change.
You tried change once, and it failed. Well, awesome. You also had a bad meal once, but you didn’t stop eating. Why is it leaders shy away from change once they’ve had any opposition to it? Maybe the change itself isn’t the problem. Maybe your strategy is the problem. Just because you failed at leading change once doesn’t mean you’ll fail forever. Get a new strategy. What’s at stake is far too important not to.
3. Belief that progress should come without pain.
Now we get closer to the heart of the matter. Many leaders secretly wish progress came without pain. Progress almost never comes without pain. Significant things are rarely accomplished without significant struggle. Our heroes are always people who suffered to bring about a better end. Part of us wants to live like that, and part of us doesn’t. The leadership question is whether you’re willing to endure pain for the sake of a better future. Real leaders say yes to that. They honestly do. If you want significantly different results, push past the fear and stop thinking incrementally. Incremental change brings about incremental results. Now you know what you’re dealing with.
What are you learning about change?
Resource: Carey Nieuwhof Blog Posts - "Cheat Sheet: 13 Facts About Change" and "The Problem With Incremental Change"