How To Lead Change
They were impossibly outnumbered. 24,000 English troops looked up in fear at 60,000 Scots who were better equipped and better positioned to take the day. And yet this Battle of Flodden did not turn out as anyone had anticipated. As the massive Scottish army began to descend from their higher vantage point towards the seemingly helpless English soldiers, they unexpectedly entered into a marshland and became stuck.
Embedded in the ground and unable to move, the English army took full advantage. It is thought that up to 17,000 Scottish soldiers were killed that day. They lost because of their inability to move from where they were.
I wonder if the same could be said of the church?
Are we losing because we have become stuck?
Is our number diminishing because of our inability (or rather, our unwillingness) to change?
Now more than ever the church is in need of great leadership because leadership is inherently about change. Tod Bolsinger expresses this perfectly when he writes, “leadership is always about personal and corporate transformation.
But because we are hard-wired to resist change, every living system requires someone in it to live into and lead the transformation necessary to take us into the future we are resisting.
The person who takes responsibility to live into the new future in a transformative way, in relationship to others in the system, is the leader. If someone is not functioning as the leader, the system will always default to the status quo.”
Leadership is about what could be and what should be. Leaders capture a vision for a preferred future and drive relentlessly towards that dream. This is why change management must be an intrinsic and inseparable part of every leader's toolkit.
But there’s a problem… “We are hard-wired to resist change,” because change always requires some discomfort and often requires letting go of something that we have become accustomed to and comfortable with. This is why leading change always has been and always will be one of the leaders greatest challenges. But we must not shrink back! So how do we lead change effectively?
Don’t require certainty
We make a mistake when we wait to be 100% certain before making a decision about change. If we do, we delay for so long that the opportunity passes us by. If you’ve done your homework, prayed and sought God, and gathered council from wise confidants, you must learn to trust your instincts and make bold decisions without any guarantee that it will work!
I am not advocating casting wisdom aside and making rash, reactive decisions here, (see point 2!), I’m just saying that no matter how long you wait you are unlikely to ever be more than 80% certain you’re making right change.
But I’d rather regret giving something a go that didn’t work out, than miss out on an opportunity and always be left wondering what would have happened if I’d had the courage to take a risk.
Investigate before you initiate
In his book, Visioneering, Andy Stanley asks us to consider the wisdom of Nehemiah. He had the vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but before sharing what was on his heart, Nehemiah took a trip around the walls to see what he was up against. When you envision a change you would be wise to do a bit of exploration before making a conclusion.
Do you know any other youth or kids workers who have done something similar before, for example? Why not seek them out, ask them questions and visit their ministries? Gathering knowledge and information in this way is not evidence of a lack of faith, but the presence of wisdom.
Give key stakeholders a voice
Change always goes better when the people who it affects the most have been heard. I’m not suggesting you should take a vote, I’m encouraging you to present your ideas to key stakeholders at an early stage and allow them to shape and develop them with you.
Crucially, this creates ownership, which vastly increases your chances of taking these people with you when the changes are finally made. So be sure to create spaces to intentionally listen to those who will be impacted by this change, and allow their ideas and concerns to impact how you move forward.
Involve your leaders early
A few months ago in this column, we discussed the crucial issue of ‘leading up,’ which if you are seeking to lead a change I would encourage you to revisit. For now, it will suffice to say, involve your senior leaders early in your thought process. When you speak to them - and this is crucial - go to ask for their input on your idea, not just to inform them about it. There is a whole world of difference here. You are way more likely to get the go-ahead from your leaders if you take them on the journey rather than informing them of the destination!
Communicate why, not just what
When you speak to your key stakeholders and senior leaders, be sure you don’t focus on what you want to do, but rather, why you want to do it. Your why should address two ‘locations’ - Here and There. Firstly, why can’t you stay here? Why is it not an option for things to stay as they are right now.
Why is it completely essential for change to happen, and why is now the time? And secondly, why must you go there? In what way will the change you are envisioning be a significantly more fruitful and effective option than the way you’re doing things right now? Be clear about your why, because people don’t buy into what you want to do, they buy into why you want to do it.
Don’t try to please everyone
You cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs! Which is to say that no matter how well you follow the aforementioned process, there will always be somebody somewhere who is not happy about the change… but that’s OK! If you try to please everyone you’ll end up inspiring no one. If you attempt to keep everyone happy you will find yourself torn between conflicting views and settling for a mediocre middle ground.
If you’re not willing for people not to like you every once in a while, then leadership is probably not for you. Look at Jesus. Was he worried about offending people? He was hated because of the changes he was bringing about, but he made them anyway, the legacy of which is that you and I are Christians today. We are the beneficiaries of the criticism he endured to bring about change. Simply put, there is no setting the future without upsetting the present. Or, if you prefer, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs!
We serve a God who is at once eternally the same (Hebrews 13:8) and making all things new (Revelation 21:5), and in his likeness, we must follow. Our message will remain forever the same - the gospel is the unchanging truth for all generations!
And yet the delivery of that message can and must change from generation to generation. Leadership and change are two inseparable, and yet sometimes uncomfortable, bedfellows.
I pray that in following these steps you will see the changes you’ve dreamed about become a reality as you courageously go after the future you long to see.
Enjoy this article? Don't forget to share
BOOKINGS FOR ‘THE GATHERING 2018 - THE UPRISING’ ARE NOW OPEN
Book your place now