5 Essential Ways to Lead Change

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  • 28 Mar 2024
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Change is unavoidable, but it won't always be easy. Humans are robust, but also resistant to change. We're wired that way, which is why change can be terrifying, frightening, and difficult. 

When we are young, our brains are fluid, malleable, and fertile for quickly absorbing large amounts of knowledge. However, when we learn to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, and safety and fear, our brains begin to lay down pathways that reinforce these changes, allowing us to make faster decisions and be more cognitively efficient. The subconscious mind memorizes environmental and cultural cues and hardwires them into the software's core layers.

During these early phases of development, the brain may swiftly change, grow, and adapt to any situation. But that's for better or worse. 

Growing up in a difficult or troubled family may instill in you unrealistic notions about your parents, society, relationships, and money. Laying down these early experiences can impact our attitudes and behaviors later in life, resulting in a slew of potential problems and results that can influence an individual's capacity to produce money, form good relationships, or achieve goals.


Leading Change Is Possible

But not everything is lost. Change can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, especially when it is intentional, guided, and aimed at achieving a goal or objective. It can be much more transformative when offered by a respected peer who actively leads change through team-building exercises, experimentation, and servant leadership. 

Because of the continuously changing environment we live in, tomorrow's leaders must be able to facilitate change among their teams and coworkers.

Regardless of our early circumstances, we all face an uphill battle because our brains were not built to be adaptable—they were designed for safety. The human brain is designed to keep us safe and comfortable, with the goal of increasing our chances of survival, propagating our genetic lineage, and raising our progeny. 

While this may be a basic approach, it is the harsh reality. Change hasn't always been a part of this equation, which is why it can give us a lot of anxiety and stress when we're actively seeking or experiencing it.


5 Ways Essential for Leading Change

If we truly want to lead change, we must consider changing the brain. And to transform the brain, we must follow a few guiding principles. The following are five fundamental approaches to lead change.


1. Lead by Example

Actions will always speak louder than words, and this is the most effective method of facilitating change since it encourages others to participate. Humans have always been and will continue to be social beings. 

When someone on your team goes through a transition, makes a positive shift in their life, or discovers a new enthusiasm for something, it spreads. People get consumed with change and begin to initiate it themselves. This facilitates leading change by demonstrating to others that if you can do it, so can they.

In many instances, we need to observe others doing something before we gain the confidence to do it ourselves. Consider the four-minute mile as an example. 

Prior to May 6th, 1954, no human had ever broken the four-minute mile time, and it was believed to be physically and medically impossible.

Nonetheless, Roger Bannister, a collegiate track and field standout and Oxford student, smashed the four-minute mile in terrible weather and strong crosswinds.[1] While this was an incredible feat in and of itself, what came next was much more impressive. 

Within two years, nine other people had broken the four-minute mark. So, what has changed? 

Their psyche and expectations for what they could accomplish. 

Seeing is believing. And when you lead by example, you end up driving change. You instill confidence in others that they can do the same thing. That is true leadership.


2. Meet Your People Where They’re At

It is difficult to meet someone where they are not. In fact, it is impossible. Because it is so easy, this is one of the most frequently missed aspects of leading change. 

Meeting your people where they are is critical for change because it establishes a strong basis on which to build. 

Asking a colleague or friend to change or behave in a foreign way would appear careless and distant, causing them to feel concerned, apprehensive, and overwhelmed by the distance between where they are and where they are being requested to meet. 

This dissonance can manifest in a variety of ways in the workplace and at home, ranging from anxiety to melancholy and disengagement, ultimately leading to changes in communication, eye contact, and even work habits.
When you can meet someone where they are, you meet them where they are most comfortable. Because change is difficult, beginning in a position of safety can set you on a path of great improvement in a short period of time because you feel safe taking risks and making changes. This psychological safety is critical for implementing change and developing new behaviors. 

The next time you find yourself leading change, make sure you start by following in someone else's footsteps to ensure you meet them where they are.


3. Provide Psychological and Emotional Safety

If actions speak louder than words and meeting people where they are is the starting point for change, then providing security and a safe environment for change is the road map to success. Our brains are hardwired to react negatively to change because it forces us out of our comfort zone and tests our ability to predict what will happen next. 

In times of uncertainty, our brains activate stress reactions that reduce our cognitive processing capacity, allowing us to prepare for a "fight, flight, or freeze" scenario.[3] Unfortunately, neither of these solutions is healthy because it reduces our critical thinking bandwidth and results in poor decisions, which can compound over time and have a substantial impact on the bottom line.

People can begin to participate in behaviors that improve their outcomes by creating an atmosphere that allows and encourages them to make mistakes and be open to new experiences. 

This is a major issue for executives that micromanage their teams and coworkers. They create a fearful and stressful workplace, altering the company culture and brainpower. As a result, a company's long-term success is defined by its everyday actions and its employees' willingness to adapt. 

Allow your staff to make errors and learn from the process. Managing change does not have to be tough.


4. Facilitate “Flow” States of Productivity

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research on flow states of consciousness discovered that people who had a flow state reported experiencing more enjoyment, energy, and involvement with their task. This is the ideal state of mind that we should all aspire for in our personal and professional endeavors.

Achieving a group flow state of mind is the most effective way to lead change because it fosters productivity, fulfillment, and maximum performance. And the best thing is that people enjoy themselves while doing it!

When people achieve these flow levels of productivity, they are actively engaged in their job and facilitating change right in front of your eyes.

And the benefits of being in flow. 

As someone who leads change, this is the pinnacle of optimal growth and productivity. 

When leaders create environments that encourage flow, hard work becomes easier, complicated jobs become manageable projects, and satisfaction levels spike. Flow states are the most important aspect for driving change because they provide instant feedback, a sense of accomplishment, and better outcomes.


5. Be Patient and Open to Giving/Receiving Advice

Change does not happen overnight, and it may take some time to discover the right amount of change to get the desired results, but this does not mean that the process may be rushed or accelerated. 

Change can be frightening, but it can also be addictive. For example, determining the appropriate rate, rhythm, and feel for guiding change is an art form in and of itself, which is why there are so many different perspectives on the subject. 

When leaders are patient with their colleagues, they provide additional assistance and demonstrate that it is acceptable to move at their own pace. Unfortunately, the process of driving change is not linear, therefore leaders must establish realistic expectations for their team members and be receptive to feedback.

Leaders who seek advise rather than feedback promote psychological safety by allowing colleagues and peers to make errors, ask questions, and challenge themselves without fear of the consequences of failure.[6] Individuals who are given the opportunity to provide feedback feel more aligned with the team and corporate goals, which increases their willingness to devote more work and energy into projects and tasks. 

However, this cycle is a two-way street. Your team members require your assistance to better their efforts and stay on track with the overall goals. The advise does not have to be harsh criticism, but it should emphasize short-term and long-term goals so that your employees may keep their focus on the prize without losing sight of the forest for the trees.

With the current state of uncertainty within corporations and industries, efforts should be focused on reducing uncertainty and stress as much as possible in order to keep workers from entering a "fight, flight, or freeze" state of mind.


We’re All in This Together

Leaders develop future leaders. And when you're leading a shift, you'll be astonished at who stands up to help you make it happen. 

Great leaders have ripple effects throughout their organizations, causing shifts in momentum and business culture, which is why measurements and data points cannot always track their results. 

Community is crucial to leading change since a company is only as good as its employees. Whoever stated "business isn't personal" evidently didn't understand business, which is personal. It entails developing relationships and trust while also facilitating growth across numerous aspects of a business.
Leading change does not have to be tough if you focus on using the correct tools and methods to do it. It can be one of the most satisfying things a leader can do, thus we need more individuals to pursue it! 

Change is unavoidable, and once you understand how to facilitate it by changing the brain, it can be simple.


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