MANAGEMENT TOOLS Four Ways to Lead Change

In today’s quick-changing business world, adaptability matters more than ever. Here’s how to lead the charge for change.

By Randy G. Pennington


You can’t do what you need to do as a leader unless you can make change work—and you can’t do that without engaging people. Unfortunately, in most organizations, change is over-managed and under-led. Here are four ideas to help.

1. Change the way you think and talk about change. For most, change is a reactive strategy that takes place when something isn’t working well. There is an alternative. When done well, change gives you a competitive advantage that allows you to be more nimble and relevant. Companies that can quickly adapt are the winners in a world where the competitive landscape changes overnight.

Action idea: Examine the language you use to describe and promote change. Are new ideas encouraged or ridiculed? Are changes only discussed from the perspective of a crisis to be averted, or do you reinforce opportunities to advance your mission, vision and values? Our language reflects our thinking, and when it comes to leading change, our thinking drives our action.

2. Connect with people where they are. A report written by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken at McKinsey & Company suggests that 80 percent of what leaders care about when trying to enlist support for change does not matter to 80 percent of the workforce. If buy-in is critical for your success, you must involve them in the process. People support what they help create.

Action idea: Involve others in crafting and implementing the solution. Most important, remember that people support change for their reasons and not yours. Do the hard work of communicating the need and opportunity for change based on what is important to those from whom you need support. While compliance can be mandated, commitment is volunteered.

3.Use resistance as your friend. When leaders encounter resistance to a change they want to make, their first response is often to reason with the resistors. If that doesn’t work, we resort to bargaining, manipulation or using power to mandate compliance. They push us, and we want to push back. We forget the positive value of resistance: Without it, there is no change.

Action idea: Use resistance as your friend. Ask questions and listen. Be patient and realize that the concerns raised by a few are probably shared by others. Doing so allows you to identify potential barriers to making change work and increases your odds of building support.

4.Go first. All change creates moments of instability and anxiety. Being faced with the need to make substantial changes can either make you bold or make you timid. Timid companies don’t anticipate the future. Timid people don’t invest in themselves or take the actions needed to quickly adapt. Those whom you seek to influence want you to be bold.
Action idea: Be bold. Focus on adding so much value that anxiety and fear are minimized. Strategically invest in the future, and inspire hope.

Randy Pennington is a consultant and the author of Make Change Work. He can be reached at


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