A Note from Chris Adams: I have to agree with guest writer Martha Lawley. I am not one who really loves change. Because of the fast changing culture we live in, I have had to learn to adjust, and it is easier now than it used to be. But some days I still balk at one more thing I have to do differently! Martha gives us 5 great ideas for how to lead during the changes we will face in ministry.
Let’s face it, few of us like change. Even those who say they do are usually talking about change they have control over. When changes occur abruptly and unpredictably, we all can get a little testy.
In this fast paced world, change is considered a “given” for people working and ministering together. However, another “given” is that people tend to prefer the status quo and are often suspicious of change. All of this can lead to conflict and make leading through change extremely difficult.
Realistically, one article can’t possibly cover the topic of leading through change adequately. However, I hope you will find these top 5 tips helpful as you lead through change.
1. Recognize the unique challenges that change presents for the leader.
Individuals with different personality types, backgrounds, and cultures may regard change in very different ways. This is one of the things that makes navigating the rough waters of change complicated. Over the years, I’ve developed a healthy respect for the unique challenges of leading through change. As I began to better understand the challenges change presents for a leader, I sought to learn more about the dynamic of change. The more I learned, the more success I had working through the fears and frustrations that often accompany change. I’m now able to resist the urge to put my head in the sand or simply shout, “Because I said so!”
2. Find out why some are resisting the proposed change.
There is usually a reason why someone is resisting a particular change. Discovering the reason or reasons for the resistance is vital. The best way to find out why someone is resisting change is to ask them. Listen with a genuine desire to understand their concerns.
The most common reasons people tend to resist change include:
- Tradition is threatened. “We have always done it this way” is a frequent comment.
- The change is perceived as illogical.
- The costs seem greater than the benefits.
- It’s perceived as self-serving. Who is promoting it? Is there a personal benefit?
- The change lacks clear intention and direction.
- The change brings on fear of the unknown; This fear can produce a reluctance to trade the known (the way things are now) for an uncertain, new way.
- There is a perception that the change will bring harm—someone may lose a job, benefit, or status.
As you listen to those resisting change, try to identify the primary concern they have. Take the time to understand their perspective and what’s at the heart of their concerns. You might even discover some useful insight you had not previously considered.
3. Determine if there are things that can be done to help people better understand and accept the change.
Once you discover the reasons some are resisting change, it’s essential you respond to the specific concerns with humility and patience. It’s part of the leader’s role to help others through this often messy process of change.
The most common ways people come to accept change:
- They are involved in the change. Because they are part of it, they support it.
- The change is logical.
- The need for change is recognized.
- Its merits are understood.
- Its intention is very clear.
- The change is perceived to have a low risk level.
- The change is non-threatening. For example, jobs will not be lost, and there will be no pay cut. If this is not possible, there will at least be recognition of the problem and some strategies to help those affected.
Notice that these ways people come to accept changes are the opposite of their reasons for resisting change. In other words, people are more open to accept change when their concerns have been addressed.
Communicating the need for the change and addressing the specific concerns of those resisting the change will create a healthier environment for change to be accepted.
4. Slow Down.
By now it’s pretty clear that successfully leading through change takes time. Communicating with those affected by the change, sharing why you believe this solution is the best option, seeking to understand and respond to the concerns raised requires a big investment of time.
One of the things I discovered about myself and leading through change is my tendency toward urgency. Often this sense of urgency was not based on anything other than my desire to get this uncomfortable process over with as soon as possible. Surely ripping the band aid off quickly is better than slowly pull it off, right? Well, that may be true of band aids, but it’s not true of change. Taking time to communicate the need for change, listen to the concerns of others and help them adjust to the change is essential to successfully leading through change.
5. Be willing to make adjustments if warranted.
Invite those affected by the change to share ideas and solutions. Making them a part of the process opens the door to new ideas, provides an opportunity to address concerns early in the process, and results in greater buy in.
Understanding and responding to the concerns of resisters can provide valuable insight that may lead you to reconsider some or all of the proposed changes. Be open to new thinking and willing to make adjustments to the proposed changes for the good of the ministry.
The good news is that we can all grow in effectiveness as we lead through the inevitable times of change. There is no time like the present to begin.
What is your number one tip for successfully leading through change? Share in the comments section.
Martha Lawley is an author, speaker, and Bible study leader, and a LifeWay Ministry Multiplier from Worland, Wyoming. She is also a retired trial attorney. Martha formerly served as the Women’s Consultant for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention until her family moved to northern Wyoming. She contributed to the women’s leadership books, Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level and Women Reaching Women: Beginning and Building a Growing Women’s Ministry. Martha is the author of the women’s Bible study, Attending the Bride of Christ: Preparing for His Return. She serves her local church in various areas of leadership.