Leading Change: 5 Questions Every Leader Should Ask
Navigating through change is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Usually, significant change happens every now and then. But over the past year-and-a-half, we've seen more change than most leaders see in an entire career.
As much as you might not like it, you know life always brings the unexpected. The real question is what are you going to do about it?
Getting back on track
I remember experiencing a significant period of unwanted change a few years ago. During that time, I brought together my top leaders and we worked to develop a roadmap for moving forward, despite the challenges we faced.
We used five questions to help us think through our situation. These questions proved to be the turning point – shifting our mindset from frustration to future-focused, from resentful to resilient. Once we made this critical shift, our actions followed.
These five questions are outlined below, along with some additional insights to help you navigate change. I suggest you bring your team together and share these questions with them. Think things through as a team. Encourage robust debate and blue-sky ideas. Then build consensus for a new way forward.
What is our reality? This is the place where you must begin. Whether you like what's happening to you or not, you must be willing to face it and accept it. Ask yourself: What changes are occurring specifically? How are these things impacting us? What new challenges are we facing as a result?
Consider both internal and external factors – and feelings. It's important to get everything out on the table, good and bad. Attempt to understand the full scope of the change.
What can't we control? This is a chance to identify and accept those factors that are not now (and probably never will be) within your control – an important step to take in this process. You don't want to waste time and energy focusing too much on these things as that will keep you stuck in a state of frustration.
Recognizing your inability to control certain things helps you leave these issues behind so you can focus on moving forward. Once you accept "what's so" you can move to "what's next."
What can we control? When you reach this point in the change conversation, you should begin to see a mindset shift. Now you realize there are many things that are still within your control, and that feels empowering and energizing.
Step back and look at the big picture. Chances are you still have control over a lot of things, such as your: ability to serve clients/customers, attitude, commitment, focus on excellence, pride in your work, impact for good, culture, communication, how you get things done, and how you show up every day. Also, likely your health, family and friends.
As your list begins to grow, you will also see your team begin to change. You'll likely observe that their thinking, behavior and comments shift from being:
Reactive to proactive
Cautious to opportunistic
Fearful to forceful
Resentful to resilient
Grumbling to grateful
This shift allows you to begin focusing on which levers you can pull and what changes you can make to design a new path forward.
What do we want to achieve? Once you and your team are focused on the future, your ideas will begin to reflect a sense of optimism and anticipation. You can begin to ask questions like: What does a "win" look like now? What benefits would be realized from success? How will we feel when we have achieved our goals?
Be specific about what you hope to achieve through – or in spite of – change. The more powerfully you envision the future, the more motivated you will be to achieve it and the more willing you will be to stick with it when the going gets tough.
Write your vision down (even if it scares you a little), and let that vision guide your priorities and plans from here.
How does our strategy need to change? This is the roll-up-your-sleeves part of the process. You can't get to your destination without a plan, so what do you need to do to get where you want to go?
It's important to listen carefully to your team and include all the things that must happen in order to achieve the results you want. For planning purposes, just list the major activities and key areas that must be addressed. You can fill in the details when the overall strategy is clear.
Once everyone is in agreement about how to move forward, encourage the team not to look back, but to keep their eyes focused on the future. By working together and staying committed to the goal, success becomes more achievable.