Do this! Now do that!

change of directionParadoxes of Change

In my coaching practice I sometimes catch myself giving seemingly contradictory advice. “You will need to be more patient.” And, “You will need to focus on driving for results. Or, “You will need to teach others how to do this so as to free yourself up a little.” And, “You have to get this done with some sense of urgency.”

I am sure I am confusing some of my clients. But, I am also hoping to make them aware of some of the paradoxes inherent to leadership during times of change. Being a change leader is hardly a science. Rather it takes what Ronald Heifetz* calls “getting on the balcony” to see patterns and trends needed to guide the organization toward desired states. Once leaders “get on the balcony” they can better envision what is needed at any given time. Here is what effective leaders of change seem to know how to balance:

*Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky are cofounders and Principals of Cambridge Leadership Associates and authors of previous books on adaptive leadership, with over fifty years of teaching and leadership consulting experience between them.

  • The need for patience and impatience – that is, helping others gain a focus while recognizing that tension can and should be reduced over time. People are resilient but cannot maintain a sprinter’s pace for long.
  • The need for action and flexibility – that is, maintaining an overall line of sight in terms of direction while working toward short term objectives that may change. Smart leaders chunk change efforts into stages and place mileposts at intervals so people can see their progress.
  • The need for results and attention to process – that is, the benefits of slowing down a little in order to accelerate later; to make mistakes early while also trying to get early wins. The better change leaders know the difference between setbacks and adversity. They also know that learning from both is a critical component of change management.
  • The need to recognize resistance as opportunity – that is, to overcome the natural inclination to knock down barriers vs. using the reactions to inform new tactics and strategies. Surfacing resistances is much better than trying to deal with covert concerns and activity.
  • The need to drive and enable the change – that is, to take responsibility for “doing” the change while “teaching” others to manage changes themselves going forward. Smart change leaders are constantly increasing their bandwidth by delegating tasks to others as development opportunities and stretch assignments.

What paradoxes do you see as required in your role as change leader?

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