Have you ever navigated change through muddy water?
Have you ever had to lead change when no one knew for sure what change was needed? Or when there wasn’t clear agreement on where the organization needs to go? Or when some players on the team were uncommitted or complacent? Or when the leadership pipeline…who is supposed to be leading…wasn’t clearly defined? Or when the season of decline has been so long no one remembers what success looks like? Or when…you get the idea.
It’s like navigating through muddy water. Ever been there?
Continuing with the muddy water metaphor, what do you do during those times?
Here are 7 suggestions when you are leading change through muddy water:
Analyze the water – How muddy is it? You need to know the work you have before you. How desorate is it? You’ll get very discouraged if you try to lead through semi-cloudy water and find out it really wasn’t muddy at all, but in fact, you were standing in quicksand. This process can take a day, a week or a year depending on the depth of the water and how long it’s been muddy. Give it time. Learn the issues. Learn the players. Hire a professional water analyzer for perspective if needed. But, know your mud first.
Be honest – “The change is going to impact you and it’s going to be hard.” How is that for transparency? It may sound too forward, but people know something new has to happen. They may not yet be able to admit it. They may not want change. They may even resist it, but they know change has to occur. Go ahead and admit the obvious. You can and should encourage people that things will improve, but they already know there is a problem. The water is muddy. They can see that. Maybe even taste it in their lemonade. Admit it. People will trust you more when you are honest.
Cast a clear vision – Where are you going? How clear must the water be for you to be satisfied? How do you propose to get there? What’s the timetable for doing so? As much as you know today…share it. People need to be assured that good things are being planned and on the horizon and clearer water is on the way.
Communicate well – Communication is always important, but especially during times of unrest, confusion or chaos. When the water is muddy, people become frustrated. They need to know what’s happening and what is being done to clear the muddy water. Remember, effective communication is speaking and listening. Do both. Do them often. Do them well.
Stand strong – Muddy currents can pull you under quickly. You will heed to be firmly anchored as a leader. Make sure you are keeping yourself healthy, emotionally, physically and spiritually so you can navigate the muddy waters.
Challenge when needed – During difficult times…in especially muddy conditions…there will be some who try to disrupt any positive change that occurs. You’ll have to challenge those who want to add more mud to the water. If you have to remove some who prefer to stay muddy…do so. Instead, lead with those who grab a shovel and help clear the mud.
Keep casting clearer water – You’ll have to encourage with a healthy vision of where you are going over and over again. This is the time for leaders to be very visible and very approachable. People will want to know someone is guiding the ship though the improving waters.