Seasons of Change

Written by Jason T. Smith

February 13, 2018

40 years of life experience and observation convinces me of this truism: “When you change a leader, you inevitably change a team.”

The profundity of this truth has landed more concretely for me as I’ve reflected over Christmas.

Strong and positive leadership, by nature, is visionary, assertive, aspirational, and motivating. And it also ALWAYS is accompanied by CHANGE.

Leadership without change is simply not leadership. At best, it’s management.

Any time you change a leader, you will invoke a series of consequential changes within the team they are connected to. Unintentionally or otherwise. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. I have even come to think that if there are not profound changes, then one might need to question the effectiveness of the leader and why they were put in that position in the first place.

Not surprisingly, the more senior the leader’s influence, the more wide-sweeping the changes.

This same observation can be made when new sporting coaches change their playing composition; when new prime ministers mix up their cabinets; when new ministers of churches change their pastoral team; and of course, in corporate America, when a new CEO retro fits their own executive team to suit the new direction they wish to take the organisation.

As I said, when you change the leadership, you inevitably change the team.

Chances are, people react differently to this change. It stirs a range of emotions. Concern, anxiety, fear, curiosity, restlessness, excitement, energy and hope.  

Ever wondered why teams change with new leaders?

Here’s some quick thoughts on why people sometimes leave after a new leader starts:  

1.Change promotes further change.

Big changes beget little changes. It’s the domino effect. Cause and effect. When you set new direction, bring fresh ideas, reposition priorities and reallocate resources…it creates a knock-on effect of change throughout the team. Some like it, some won’t. This is not always a negative experience, as for many the changes open people’s eyes to new opportunities (often to be realised in a different team).

2. Different leadership styles and new expectations.

No two leaders are the same. This is not good or bad, just different. We all accept this to be true. When a new leader starts though, naturally they want to set fresh expectations for the team around them. It’s like everyone on the team is starting a new job together…even though they didn’t apply for this one.

3.People are loyal to people.

Generally, people are not loyal to brands, organisations, ideas or causes. People are mostly loyal to other people. Relationship matters. When the leader you have been following leaves, it instinctively displaces the object of your loyalty. Some quickly throw their commitment behind the new leader, but many consider their options at a time of uncertainty.

Often people ask me if changes made by a new leader are positive or negative. Hard to say in all cases. It’s potentially both. Or either. But regardless, I’ve found it to be inevitable. So, it’s better to know it’s coming and be prepared.

So here are three things I encourage you to consider if you’re experiencing change in your workplace:

1.Embrace any change as an opportunity.

New leaders and vacant positions in an organisation create runway for you to stretch and grow. Consider how you can step up, take on new challenges and reach for extra responsibility. Consider this the best career development opportunity available.

2.Commit to the mission of the organisation, and not just the leader.

If you are only loyal to a person, rather than the organisation then you are vulnerable to changes that happen in or to the leader. True revolutions only happen because people transfer their loyalty from a person to a cause.

3.Plan effective transitions.

The hardest part of team change is the jolt you feel in culture, workload, knowledge leak, and disrupted client relationships. Everyone hurts because of the dramatic shift. The best way to preserve team when personnel change is to practice smooth transfer of internal workplans and responsibilities. Try to download the organisational memory of outgoing people in sensitive ways. And don’t forget to thoroughly onboard new people who are starting with a clean slate.

When you change a leader, changes in the team around them are inevitable. Progress, however, is optional. Do it right, and these changes will create enduring good for a long time to come…and everyone wins!

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