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Leadership in Changing Times

‘To everything there is a season – turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap…..’  And occasionally, some good comes out of bad.

Right now I am privileged to be part of an organisation-wide initiative which is spearheading open and constructive communication.  We’ve heard many times from their range of employees ‘you’ve got us at the right time.’  ‘We’ve been ‘turned upside down’ and as a result, more open to doing things differently.‘

It reminds me of Kurt Lewin’s famous ‘Freezing, Unfreezing and Refreezing’ stages of change.  With flux comes the stage of Unfreezing, where things are uncertain.

I believe that the leadership principles for getting the best out of one’s employees remain the same during ‘Unfreezing,’ whatever the changing context, ranging from inexorable life-threatening tectonic shaking to a merger/acquisition.  That is not to say that these examples are the same, they are very much NOT.  However I believe that the leadership principles to cope with Unfreezing, are.

Key principles:

  • As a leader, if you are directly affected, refer yourself to an expert. You can’t be everything to everyone.  As they say ‘put your own oxygen mask on’ first.  Being a senior leader in an organisation can be lonely, especially supporting others in times of vulnerability and uncertainty.
  • As a leader your role is to demonstrate compassion with action.  The style may be quietly encouraging employees to work within what they can control, and to endeavour to put off any major decisions until their internal calm resumes.  Coaching helps employees to think for themselves, which then breeds more self-confidence, especially during times of uncertainty.  Your support of them speaks volumes going forward.  Don’t underestimate its influence.
  • Know your people and their unique contexts for performance.  Not to ‘be in their pockets,’ but to be able to ‘hold the mirror’ up to them; ask them what they need right now and how you can help.  Performance management is arguably even more important during such times of rumbling uncertainty.  Some leaders run gun-shy of continuing to challenge employees during such times of flux.  Trust that people are able to have their own internal barometer.  And what you need is for them to be able to say where that barometer is today for them.
  • Special favours for some and not for others can be a real morale killer.  Notwithstanding everyone has a unique context, look to keep an even hand.
  • Use what you have – mentoring may be alive and well in the organisation already, and you may be able to call on it even more.
  • Create certainty for those things that you can be certain about and say honestly when you cannot.
  • Talk about it – your experiences and thoughts.

As a leader, it is important to understand your employees’ unique context for performance.  It’s the uncertainty and inexorable waiting….waiting…. that employees and we as humans find challenging to deal with, especially when it interferes with our rice bowl.  Amidst such profound change, we truly see the uniqueness of each of us.  To everything there is a season – turn, turn, turn.


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