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The Art of Leading Change by Karen Buckley

January 18, 2012

When you need to lead others through a change, what are the absolute three things you should do? And, what should you never do?               

Here are three strategies that work for leaders to help plan for and guide change that work across all industries. Like many leaders over the years, you’ll be surprised how prospective changes can become successful changes if you use these 3 D’s. I first published them in 1984 in Transforming Work and they’ve been used to plan organization development in corporate, government, non-profit, and community systems.

Since change is inevitable and most of us lead change in living systems versus machines (think people and teams and all their complex feelings, thoughts, motivations, and inclinations) it’s useful to continually refine our strategies for introducing and managing change. Plus, it improves your leadership resilience when you work in concert with the nature of change rather than acting like change is linear and you can simply exchange one part for another.

The First D: Degree  – What is the Extent of the Change?

Like Captain Picard in Star Trek, the first priority is to assess the Degree of unknowns. You might be traveling into a new solar system! How much change do you want to make? Is it a Minor change with minimum difference or a Major change, involving multiple layers of intersecting people and systems? Or is it a Transformative level of change that involves a fundamental shift in the way business is done. Transformation affects fundamental beliefs, paradigms of thinking as well as profoundly rearranging what is expected and how everything is structured.

Don’t act like it’s a minor change when the change feels major to those involved or changes get stalled. Even the best ideas ignite illogical resistance and end up with unintended and sometimes damaging consequences. Assess the Degree of change ahead of time. Ask people who will be affected for their assessment and you’ll improve their willingness to go through the chaos that inevitably precedes a fully integrated organizational change.

The Second D: Developmental Phases – Change is a Journey

Whether you are planning change that involves an entire corporation or just your team, there is a transition from the present state to an altered future state. It is a journey. Things develop, grow, expand, arise, fall apart and work out as you go through the common seven-stages of the transition passage.

William Bridges brought a three-stage roadmap of transitions to mainstream culture with his book, Transitions:Making Sense of Life’s Changes, in 1980. My research built on this to identify seven-stages that fill out the picture.

Your job? Diagnose who is in which stage: Who is still Ending the past, or still Unconscious or just Awakening to the need for change? Who is in the Middle passage – involved in the Reordering and Translation stages? What do they need? And, who is the early adopter – in the final stage of New Beginning, already past Commitment and working in Embodiment to refine structures and behaviors for final Integration. Design your communication and involvement strategies to speak directly to the people in each of the seven stages and you will bring them all along.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make it to assume that key people are ready to commit to change when they are still unaware or not in agreement with the need for change.

The Third D: Dimensions of Change

A change is incomplete without shifts in the three dimensions of Behavior, Structure and Consciousness. Without changes in how people behave, how the systems are organized, and how people think and feel – the system easily reverts to old ways of doing things.

Whether minor, major, or transformative, change unfolds through a transition zone in dynamic, nonlinear, non-rational, and intuitive ways. Any system needs to build readiness before a change can take hold. Leaders who use their web-like thinking and wisdom employ the 3-D framework — Degrees, Developmental Stages, and Dimensions— to improve change intelligence and leadership resilience. The 3-D’s are powerful tips you can immediately apply in your business and life.


About the Author:

Karen Wilhelm Buckley develops wise leaders. As Director of The Wisdom Connection Karen partners with women leaders and organizations that have powerful missions to help them accomplish those missions. Her speaking engagements, retreats, and Wisdom and Power of Women Leaders Forums engage hundreds of businesswomen in the United States and Europe to recognize their own wisdom, power and the necessity of their leadership to benefit the world.

In addition, as Principle of Communicore Consulting Karen is an executive coach and consultant bringing experience and expertise to the field of organization development.  Her clients develop skills and strategies to effectively drive needed changes. She speaks at conferences, annual meetings and leads retreats on wise leadership and managing complex change.

A published author, Karen was recently selected to be part of the newly released book, Savvy Leadership Strategies for Women, in recognition of her work on women leading change. She was also a learning team leader at the 2011 Women in Leadership Institute.


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