Leading During Transition

Over the last year, I’ve been working with the leadership team of a small organization that has plateaued.  Turnover is higher than it should be.  Financial returns are flat.  Employees are frustrated with the lack of leadership.  Leaders are frustrated with the lack of energy and innovation from employees.  Everyone is looking for someone else to solve the problem.

The CEO joined about 18 months ago.  I have spent the majority of my time with her.  She was burdened with feelings that the opportunity was misrepresented during the search process.  While it was her first opportunity to have the chief executive seat and to lead an organization that (from the outside at least) seemed set up for great success, she lamented how she never anticipated the internal dysfunction.  She ruminated on questions that caused her more personal anxiety such as:  How was the Board not aware? Was there a reason  they didn’t read her in more before formally offering her the role?

As the external partner and her trusted advisor, I listened and empathized.  We’ve all had career experiences that took us by surprise or left us feeling uncertain.  Yet, I also encouraged her not to dwell on all that was wrong or in need of repair.  Every organization has issues and opportunities for improvement.  We worked together to ask different questions and create the positive mental agility that leadership during transition requires.

What’s most important when leading during transition?

In our early conversations, we started by reconnecting with her “Why.”  Why did she originally accept the role? Why was she energized by the organization’s mission and values?  Reconnecting allowed her to accomplish every leader’s most important task:  Lead ourselves first.  My advice was for her to spend time in solitude.  Reflect.  Think.  Breathe.   Plan.

Once she was back on solid “self-leadership” ground, she confidently re-engaged.  Her priorities moved to painting the picture of success for her team, role modeling gratitude and, most importantly, righting the ship to lead the team into the unknown future.

Most recently, we’ve spent time delving into the details of leading a team of senior professionals that are each on their own “transition journey.”  What does that require of her?  How can she best support them personally, yet also instill the level of responsibility and accountability they need?

Change expert William Bridges wrote about this psychological process us humans go through when confronted with change.   Bridges created the Transition Model and spent decades advising and consulting with organizations navigating massive transformation.  You can find Bridges’ work and resources here.

Last week, our task was identifying where each member of her team is psychologically as they work to internalize the changes they are experiencing.  We talked about the emotions she is observing from each individual.  What words are they using?  What behaviors is she seeing?  Naming these, allowed her to recognize how she must coach each person differently given where they are emotionally.

When will this current transition end?

As we ended our last session, she asked:  “How will I know that it’s working?”  Bridges’ model clarifies what it looks like when we’ve mentally worked through the change and successfully navigated the Neutral Zone.  Using this model, it’s fairly easy to detect when our team members have figured out what their personal New Beginning looks like. 

The harder work is shifting our mindsets to effectively lead in our new business reality.  Thanks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4) the pace of technological change has grown exponentially in the last 20 years.  It’s become inarguable that the pace of organizational change will ever slow down again.  The most pressing work for CEOs, executives and leaders at all levels of our organizations is shifting our leadership mindset and evolving culture to lead in an era of Constant Transition.

Is your team floundering under the weight of massive change and transformation?  Are you feeling under pressure or uncentered to lead your organization forward?  Let’s Connect.  I regularly coach and advise leaders and organizations navigating transformations and leading teams through transition.