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Take the change management leadership challenge!

Posted 18 June 2012
by Helen Haley

According to California-based lecturer and consultant William Bridges, when change occurs, the higher a leader sits in an organisation, the more quickly they tend to move through the change process. This is because leaders can often see the intended destination “before others even know the race has begun.” He believes that leaders often forget that others within an organisation will take longer to let go of old ways and embrace a new beginning.

In his article Leading Transition: A New Model for Change, Bridges points out that most leaders come from backgrounds where technical, financial or operational skills were paramount. These skills, however, provide little assistance when it comes to leading others through transition.

Looking back on history, Bridges notes that leaders would simply order changes. They imagined that to make a change work, people needed only to follow the plan – ending of course in successful organisational change.

As change practitioners, we know this is simply not true. But we also know that not all leaders can be change experts and that even a lifetime of reading books or attending seminars will not necessarily bring them to an enlightened place.

What is missing, says Bridges, is an understanding of transition and how different people and employees work through transitions.

“Transition is the state that change puts people into,” says Bridges. “The change is external (the implementation of a new policy, new structure etc) while the transition is internal (a psychological reorientation) that people go through before the change can work.”

The trouble occurs, according to Bridges, when leaders imagine that transition is automatic – that it’s happens simply because the change is happening.

Leaders need to coach others through the transition process. And many organisations fail to realise that the leaders themselves usually need coaching before they can effectively coach others!

Bridges has defined three stages of transition:

  • Endings – the first step involves letting go of how things – and often themselves – used to be
  • The Neutral Zone – successful transition includes people spending time getting used to how things will be after the change. It should not be rushed and is often where the real transformation takes place.
  • New Beginnings – this requires people to begin behaving in a new way which for some can be disconcerting.

Bridges believes no training program can prepare a leader for managing a transition and all three phases. Yet no leader can effectively lead change – which is what leadership is all about – without understanding and, ultimately experiencing the transition process. With assistance and coaching from a change practitioner or change savvy leader however, they can learn the particular kind of leadership that an organisation in transition demands.

Helen Haley
Director, Allegra Consulting

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