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Changing the Way We Change

Originally published: 01.01.14 by Lisë Stewart


Change is inevitable; but successful change takes a special skill set.

The world is a busy and crazy place these days… We are inundated with messages to be leaders, to innovate, and to bring new products, services and marketable ideas to the marketplace. We are told to inspire, spin, market, promote, nurture and encourage change. We need to have energy, integrity, enthusiasm, a strong backbone, a clear vision for the future and the ability to learn from the past! And the list goes on…

But HOW? For any person at the top of an organization or team, this can be a daunting challenge. The teams we lead are likely to be made up of a diverse group of people. We employ young, mission-driven millennials who expect to be heard, want to learn and need to be inspired. We also have established, older employees who are looking for specifics, may equate power with holding onto knowledge and expect to be recognized for their experience.


We all know that change can be frustrating and difficult, and that people embrace new experiences and ideas at different rates, but we also know that change is inevitable. Organizations that create healthy environments to support continuous

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process improvements are more likely to survive and thrive in the future.


Here are some ideas that I regularly share with organizations looking to incorporate healthy, empowering and effective change.

First — forget about leading or managing change. There are scores of books written on this subject and most good leaders and managers today already know the basics. Instead, try focusing on coaching and mentoring through the change process. When we coach, we work with our clients to clearly understand their expectations, understand where they are right now, as well as understand any barriers to moving forward. Then, we work together to remove those barriers and create a plan to move in the desired direction. Notice how many times the word understand is used in this description of coaching. As an effective coach in a change process, I suggest taking the time with your key team members to:

  1. Clearly describe your current state and how you got there. This helps to shed light on the current context and develops a shared understanding of how it feels to be in the current situation. For some people, it might feel just fine — for others, not so much. It is often useful to have everyone hear and UNDERSTAND what the current state feels like for others.
  2. Next, take some time to really UNDERSTAND what the desired future state might look like. Again, do this with your team. We often move through a change process more effectively if we can clearly see what the end result will look like. Talk about why you believe this change is important, how it will affect the current state, and what things will look and feel like — both as you move through the process and once it is completed. Clearly articulate the end goal and be cautious about moving too fast to action. It is not uncommon for leaders to try to move from the stimulus, or source of frustration, to action without really understanding the underlying issues or causes. This often means that we end up repeating the same old mistakes over and over because we don’t learn from our own history.
  3. Put on your COACHING hat. Work with your team to identify both their personal barriers to effectiveness and the barriers that exist within the organization. Listen with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t judge the reactions of others, but rather, take the time to learn about them. Instead of trying to change people, work together to find new ways to clear the path, solve problems and find common ground. When we coach instead of trying to manage or lead, we stand beside our team members, as a partner in the change process. Rather than telling others what the change will be, we work together to craft the vision of the future, clear barriers and experiment with new ideas.
  4. Consider being a mentor of change rather than a manager of change. As a mentor, we share our knowledge and experiences in an effort to pass that knowledge on to others and to provide them with a range of opportunities to improve their skills or increase their confidence. As a mentor of change, we can identify times to share our experiences, while offering our protégés a chance to practice, experiment, ask for our feedback and guidance, and test their learning independently.

Re-labeling our role in a change process from the leader or manager of change to the coach or mentor of change invites us to use a whole new skill set. This can be especially helpful as we work with our diverse workforce. It can also be helpful as we strive to create teams that feel confident working through constant change cycles — secure in their ability to thoughtfully take risks, test ideas, share information and knowledge, and carefully reflect on the learning process. When we coach our team members, we demonstrate our faith in their competence and ability to grow in the job. When we act as mentors in our workplaces, we create environments where sharing knowledge is a source of pride and where collaboration is the preferred way of working. These are key steps in building healthy, enlightened organizations that are continually prepared to take on new challenges and thrive in our dynamic, fast-paced world. 



Lisë Stewart is founder and director of Galliard Group, a training and consulting firm specializing in family-owned and closely-held businesses. She is a nationally recognized author and speaker who draws on her 25+ years of experience to share practical advice for ensuring sustainability of family businesses. Lisë can be reached via email at lstewart@galliardgroup.com.


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