Great leaders manage change well. Great pastors also manage change well. But it’s not easy. In my research for my latest book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry, I learned that brain insight can help us navigate change successfully. Consider these four ways to successfully navigate a change you’re facing. (Reprinted by permission from Brain-Savvy Leaders.)
Four Ways to Successfully Navigate Change:
1. Keep others informed about your progress and welcome their input. Build into your change buy-in plan specific dates when you will communicate progress. Tell your team how you will evaluate progress and when you will report it. Bring all your key players into the conversation. If they feel they are in the “out” group, resistance to change will be higher, as it creates an away response (Rock & Cox, 2012), a response that hinders followership. Be thorough in your assessments. If the change is not going as planned, be honest, yet focus on solutions, not problems. Give hope. Elicit feedback from several sources, not just from those at the top of your organizational chart. The more collaborative your evaluation process, the more successful the change (London & Smither, 1995). When others feel that they contributed to the evaluation process, they sense more freedom and thus more ownership.
2. Continue to acknowledge that change is scary. When you talk about the progress you’re making, continue to verbalize that you understand how difficult and scary change can be. Be sure that you don’t speak in a patronizing way that implies that it’s difficult for your team and not for you. Let them know that it’s scary for you as well (another way to build empathy, an important leadership competency). Help your team realize that it’s normal to feel unsettled during change and that it will pass.
3. Tell stories of people who are navigating the change well. Narrative persuasion is a technique that uses indirect communication through story and example. Often we try to persuade others with a direct approach that communicates just the facts, like, “We are going to make a change, and here are the reasons why.” The direct approach often is not effective. Neuroscientists have confirmed common sense that storytelling has a powerful effect on behavior (Falk et al., 2012). Storytelling helps others “see” through the eyes of another. As you solicit feedback, look for stories of people who are managing the change well. Tell their stories as you give updates about your progress. When your team members can see successful responses to change through stories of others, it will help them navigate the change better.
4. Stay reasonably connected to your biggest resisters. In my third book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership, I devote an entire chapter to explaining why we need to stay connected to our critics. Change will bring detractors to the surface, as the Bible often shows. When Moses sent Joshua and the spies to scout out the promised land, even though they returned with glowing reports about the opportunity before them, many people resisted the change by spreading a bad report (Num. 13: 32). Stay connected to your detractors, but don’t become their punching bag. Rather, if you stay calmly connected to them, you can help calm their emotionality.
What has helped you navigate change well in your church or organization?