8 Ways to Deal With the Emotions of Change

Grumpy, pissed off, unhappy old man

In previous posts I shared about the way people respond to change. One post share the “Absolute Most Common Objection to Change“. Another post shared “7 Common Emotions to Change“. And, there were actually 8 emotions. :) No one seemed to catch that.

With each post I was asked for some feedback on how to address those reactions. Emotions are unpredictable and unique so there’s probably not one answer here — or an easy answer. But, there are some things you can do — much as you would when dealing with emotional issues in any relationships for any reason.

Here are 8 ways to react to the emotions of change:

Fear. Give information. People usually fear what they don’t know more than what they do. During seasons of change it’s important to increase the level of communication.

Grief. Allow time to adjust — even to heal. There’s been a loss. You don’t get over that immediately. Obviously, if a person can never get over it you may have to move forward without them. But, make sure you don’t move without them because you stepped on their season of grief.

Enthusiasm. Temper celebration when change is still hurting some people. Don’t slap those opposed in the face immediately. Of course, never say “I told you so”. That screams arrogance. Celebrate yes, but do it with taste when feelings are involved.

Anger. Give it time to see if it calms. Extend forgiveness where necessary. Allow people to express their anger without retribution. Anger is usually the result of unmet expectations. Don’t agitate even further by not following through on commitments made. Some people can’t move forward once they’ve gotten angry. They don’t know to move forward. But allow time to see if it’s just an initial, reactionary outburst.

Confusion. During times of change attempt to be the king of clarity. Use various methods of communication. People hear things in different ways. Make sure everyone hears you or has an opportunity to it they are listening. (And some won’t)

Loneliness. To address this one you have to somehow replace the loneliness people feel with something they can enjoy even more. It will take time. Again, some won’t get there, but if the change is worthwhile, most people will eventual see some value in the change — especially as it relates to their personal values. Bottom line here: Make good changes.

Sadness. Recognize and acknowledge that some people will have a genuine lack of happiness about the change. That’s okay. Don’t force it. Don’t expect it. Give it time. Sometimes giving them new roles within the change gives them relief from the sadness. But the best response here is to be patient with people. Sadness doesn’t heal under pressure.

Numbness. Energize them with the vision. Let the vision drive their enthusiasm. That means you have to repeat the vision often. Sometimes daily. And you celebrate vision accomplishment more than anything else you celebrate.

Any ideas you would care to share?

The Absolute Most Common Reason Change is Resisted

time for change

After years of leading change I’ve discovered some things about the process. One of those discoveries is that change will face resistance. All change.

Surprised by that revelation? Not if you’ve ever led change.

If the change has any value at all, someone will not agree — at least initially.

There is something in all of us that initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

And, I’ve discovered the absolute most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest.

Would that be helpful to know?

I would say it is true the majority of time when change is resisted.

Understanding this reason can help navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion they feel. They may not even be able to describe it, but it’s more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

What’s the emotion? You may think anger, or confusion, or fear. And, while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation it isn’t the most common. I recently wrote 7 Emotions of Change – and it isn’t one of them. I was saving the biggie for this post — because all the others are often products of this one.

The most common emotion that causes resistance to change:

A sense of loss

People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing?

It’s not a good feeling emotion.

Loss of power
Loss of comfort
Loss of control
Loss of information
Loss of familiarity
Loss of tradition
Loss of stability

They aren’t always rational emotions. They are often perceived as bigger than they really are.

But, they are real emotions to the person experiencing the emotion of loss.

It doesn’t matter if people know the change is needed. They often feel they may be losing something in the change — and it causes them to resist the change.

And, because change is — well — change — their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

I have found, as a leader, that if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

When a leader discounts a person’s emotions — or ignores them — the resistance becomes more intense — because the emotions become more intense. That’s when some of those other emotions — like anger — are often added. The process of change is stalled — sometimes even derailed.

Leader, are you paying attention to the emotions of change?

7 Indicators That You’re Not Leading Anymore

Leadership is action, not position

Being in a leadership position is no guarantee we are leading. Holding the title of leader isn’t an indication one actually leads.

Leading by definition is an active term. It means we are taking people somewhere. And, even the best leaders have periods — even if ever so briefly — even if intentional — when they aren’t necessarily leading anything. Obviously, those periods shouldn’t be too long or progress and momentum eventually stalls, but leadership is an exhaustive process. It can be draining. Sometimes we need a break.

For an obvious example, I try to shut down at the end of every day and most Saturdays. I’m not leading anything — but I’m still a leader. And, I periodically stop leading for a more extended period. During those times — I’m intentionally not leading anything. There are other times, such as after we’ve accomplished a major project, where I may intentionally “rest” from leading to catch my breath and rely on our current systems and structures to maintain us.

But, again, those times should be intentional and they should be too extended. In my experience, leaders get frustrated when they aren’t leading for too long a period.

For me personally, I like to evaluate my leadership over seasons, rather than days. Typically, just for simplicity of calendar, I look at things on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis. How/what am I going to lead this next quarter — next year? How/what did I lead last quarter — last year?

If the past review or the future planning is basically void of any intentional leadership — if all I’m doing is managing current programs and systems during that time frame — if we are in maintenance mode for too long — I know it’s time to intentionally lead something. That’s good for me personally and for the teams I lead.

How do you evaluate if you are leading or simply maintaining? One way is to look for the results of leading. What happens when you do lead? And, ask if those are occurring.

For example…

Here are 7 indicators that you’re not leading anymore:

Nothing is being changed. Leadership is about something new. Somewhere you haven’t been. That’s change. If nothing is changing — you can do that without a leader.

No paradigms are being challenged. Many times the best change is a change of mindset — a way we think. Leaders are constantly learning so they can challenge the thinking “inside the box”.

You’re not asking questions. A leader only knows what he or she knows. Nothing more. And, many times the leader is the last to know. A great part of leadership is about discovery. And, you only get answers to questions you ask.

There are competing visions. Leaders point people to a vision. A vision. Not many visions. One of the surest ways to derail progress is to have multiple visions. It divides energy and people. It confuses instead of bringing clarity. When we fail to lead competing visions arise and confusion elevates.

No one is complaining. You can’t lead anything involving worthwhile change where everyone agrees. If no one is complaining someone is settling for less than best.

People aren’t being stretched. There are never moments of confusion. Please understand. A leader should strive for clarity. But, when things are changing and challenging there will always be times of confusion. That’s when good leaders get even better at communicating, listening, vision casting, etc.

People being “happy” has become a goal. Everyone likes to be liked. Might we even say “popular”. In fact, some get into leadership for the notoriety. But, the end goal of leadership should be accomplishing a vision — not making sure everyone loves the leader. Progress hopefully makes most people happy, but when the goal begins with happiness, in my experience, no one is ever really made happy.

Leader, have you been sitting idle for too long? Is it time to lead something again?

7 Examples of Tough, But Smart Leadership Decisions

exhausted man

Leadership is tough. It’s especially tough when it involves people. :)

It is interesting, however, in my experience, how often the toughest decision is the smartest decision. It’s the one we know we need to make but it’s the hardest one to make. Every leader I know wants to be liked. They want to limit frustration among the people trying to follow. They want to be effective and for people to appreciate and value their leadership. Those are normal human desires.

And, making tough calls seems at times like they may jeopardize some of those things.

Yet, the ability and willingness to make the tough calls — and doing it well — is what often separates the successful leaders from the not so successful.

There are many examples of tough, but smart leadership decisions. You have your own. I’ll just share a few of mine that come to mind.

7 examples of some tough but smart leadership decisions:

If the answer is going to be no. Don’t delay saying it. It’s easier to say “let me think about it” — or to delay saying no for a time, maybe even saying what they want to hear, but if you already know you’re eventually going to say no, the smarter decision — as tough as it is — is to say no now. It saves a lot of grief for you and other people. This includes saying no to good things so you can say yes to best things. One of the toughest calls for me as a leader is telling someone I can’t meet with them. I hate it. I want to accommodate everyone. But, I’ve learned that I’m not always the right person. I sometimes complicate things by getting in the way, and I am not very effective if I don’t prioritize my time. As tough as it is, leader, if you don’t protect your time to do the things you must do, everyone on your team will suffer. If the answer is no — just say no.

Instead of making excuses. Own the problem. I don’t know about you, but I can always find someone or something to blame. That’s easy. Tougher is to admit it. We blew it. We made a mistake. We messed up. And, if the fault is clearly mine — I MESSED UP! People appreciate honesty. It’s smarter, by far, to be transparent than to always pass the buck.

When you aren’t sure what to do next? Admit it. I’ve learned there are usually people on the team who have some ideas that can help me if I’m humble enough to ask. As tough as it is to admit you are in over your head, you’ll gain support by seeking input. Strange as it may seem, you actually add credibility to yourself as a leader.

If you’re about to crash. Raise the white flag. This one seems especially needed for pastors. No pastor I know — and frankly no leader — is comfortable admitting they are facing burnout. The fear is we would lose support. But, the smarter decision is to confide in someone who can help. Getting help before you crash allows you to finish the race. It would be better to limp across the finish line than to be taken out of commission for a permanent injury. Get help now if you need it!

Challenge the sacred cows. Every leader knows that change is hard. And, changing the things people say can’t be touched are the toughest changes. Truth be told, I’ve learned some of these aren’t as sacred as they appear. It was just that no one ever challenged them. But, I’ve also learned that if a leader shies away from change he or she knows has to take place — for the long-term good of the church or organization — everything will eventually become a “sacred cow”. All change — even small changes — will face opposition.

Release your right to get even. That’s so tough — isn’t it? Because holding a grudge is much easier than offering forgiveness. Leadership involves power and every leader is tempted at some time to use that power in revenge. Don’t do it. It never proves smart in the end. A leader is severely injured in ability to attract loyal, trusting followers — who have the potential of becoming leaders — if he or she is ever seen as one who gets even. That leader may have followers, but they’ll turn on a dime against the leader when given a chance.

Take a risk on an unproven person. Good leaders like to surround themselves with competent people. Experience makes life easier for all of us. But, some of the best leadership discoveries I have made came with untested people. We took a risk. Giving a young pastor a chance before they graduate from seminary has proven to be some of my riskiest and yet wisest moves.

Those are 7 examples of tough, but smart decisions I have to make in leadership.

Which of these tough decisions do you need to make today?

Do you have any you’d share with me?

7 Emotions of Change

Voodoo Macumba Smileys Emotions Icons

Every change costs someone something.

One of those costs, which is often underestimated by those leading change, is the emotional response to change. All change has an emotional response.

Realizing and recognizing the emotions of change can help you better lead through the change. Acknowledging someone’s emotions goes a long way towards helping them accept it. Change is hard either way, but if you ignore the emotions you’ll find yourself always battling to make change successful.

Here are 7 common emotions to change:

Fear. Change can be very scary because it takes you into something unknown.

Grief. There’s a sense of loss associated with change. Something was left behind. People may have loved the way things were. Even if they know the change was needed people may grieve what they left behind.

Enthusiasm. This is a good emotion. Most of the time. And, for some people. There are times, however, that one groups enthusiasm further frustrates another person’s pain.

Anger. People can get mad about change. They can even “lose their religion”. Change can cause people to react in very ungodly ways. They may say or do things that are mostly out of character for them. (Although, sometimes change allows us to see someone’s true character.)

Confusion. Change takes people somewhere new and, therefore, can often leave people feeling very confused until they figure out and adjust to what the new reality will be after the change. There can even be an appearance of acceptance simply because a person doesn’t yet understand how they will be affected.

Loneliness. Change takes something away from people. It may have been what made them comfortable. They may feel an emptiness as a result of the loss.

Sadness. There can be a profound sadness to change. For example, I think of my wife when we have changed church assignments. She can know we are following God’s will but she is sad at the separation of relationships she values.

Numbness. Sometimes change can leave people with their heads spinning — especially when change is fast. People don’t even know what to feel — which means they don’t know how to respond. (You won’t know their true emotion to change until after the period of numbness.)

Next time you’re in the midst of change — which if you’re in leadership should be often — watch for — and find ways to acknowledge — the emotions of change. Don’t limit these emotions to leadership. They are true in all relationships — in marriage — parenting — life. Where change is occurring, emotions are sure to be found.

In a future post, I’ll share some thoughts on how to address each of these emotions.

What other emotions of change have you observed?

7 Qualities of Good Change Agent Leaders

Chalkboard with text Changes

If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.

Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.

I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.

Here are 7 qualities of good change agents:

Flexible – It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.

Courageous – Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism — worth hearing — and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk that clouds progress.

Relational – Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know that ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.

Strategic – A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.

Creative – Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say that I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change happens with creativity. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. That takes creativity.

Intentional – Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.

Thorough – A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.

Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?

One Way to See a Successful Change

Chalkboard with text Changes

Here is one key to successful change. 

Try replacing one something with one something else.

The problem with change is that people fear losing something they’ve grown to value…something they’ve grown comfortable with in their life…something they love. 

One key to successful change is to replace the thing your changing with something they’ll love even more.

You can’t do it everytime. Sometimes you just have to let things go. And, even with this change is never easy. But, when possible, give them something better rather than nothing at all. You’ll help them better embrace the change long-term and help build a culture more conducive to change.

Try it. 

5 Stages of Organizational Development

Growth Blue Marker

Every organization goes through life cycles. This includes the church. These cycles can be natural or forced, but part of leadership is recognizing them and adapting leadership to them for continued health and growth. Each stage has overlap, but understanding this can help a leader decide how best to lead…which is different in each cycle.

Here are 5 life cycles of any organization:

Birth – This founding period usually involves a few people with a big vision. This is the initial stage where a lot of learning takes place and the organization begins to develop leaders…sometimes by trial and error. Everyone on the team at this point has the potential to become a leader in some area. Having planted a couple churches, we launched one with one staff member (me), my wife, and twenty or so people. The other was with three staff members, our wives, and eleven couples. Each member of both teams were forced to lead areas outside their comfort level, but we gained some of our best leaders that way and several people found a passion they did not know they had. In both church plants, which grew quickly, this stage lasted less than one year.

Childhood – A deepening and maturity process begins at this stage, but the organization still has few policies and procedures in place and everything is still “fun”, with the excitement of still being a young vision. New leadership develops and responsibilities spread to new people within the organization. Mistakes are common as the organization figures out its identity. The DNA of the organization begins to form. The organization begins to recognize its need for more structure. This was a fun stage and time for both church plants. The normal for this stage appears to end in three to five years. (For larger organizations, I assume this could be a longer time frame.)

Adolescence – Greater levels of responsibility are handed out to more people and the weight of responsibility spreads within the organization. The organization has had some success at this point and so it begins to take new risks and dream new and bigger dreams. This is a continued growth time and usually full of renewed energy. If the organization is not careful some of the initial leaders of the organization can begin to experience burnout; and often a loss of power as new leaders emerge. More developed structure becomes necessary at this point and the organization must begin to think about maintaining growth. Organizations are forced to “grow up” during this stage. It usually happens in the first ten years, but again, this may depend on the size of the organization.

Maturity – At this stage the organization has many experiences of success and some failure and must begin to think through continued growth and health as an organization. The organization needs constant renewal and regeneration to remain current and viable. Leadership has been developed, but the organization begins to plan out succession of leaders. The structure of the organization is usually well established by this point, but must remain flexible enough to adapt to changes outside the organization. At some point all organizations enter this phase. All. The goal at this point needs to shift into breathing new life into the organization. (A lot of churches reach this stage and cease to change and grow, often steeped in their own traditions, and this is where plateau begins. Know any who fit this category?)

Renewal – This stage almost always has to be forced on an organization. Sad, isn’t it? Either by leadership or for survival purposes, something new must occur or the organization will eventually die or cease to be viable. I am in this stage with a church now. This can be scary for people, but it does not mean the organization must leave its vision, traditions, or culture, but it must consider new ways of realizing its potential. Some will say renewal comes at each stage of the organization’s life cycle and that may be true, but I contend there is a definite stage in a healthy life cycle where an organization improves and almost reinvents itself to continue to experience health and growth.

Another thing to remember is that the speed of an organization’s growth (or the church’s growth) can cause life cycles to complete much quicker. Consider the child who has to face adult decisions early in life and is forced to “grow up fast”. A similar thing happens to organizations.

(These are not my terms. I learned them years ago in a management class. The explanation and application is mine. I realize this is written with secular leadership terms. I have a long background in the business community, but I believe the principles here are directly transferable to the church setting.)

7 Suggestions for Navigating Change When Standing in Muddy Water

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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.

Have you ever navigated through muddy water? Any suggestions you’d add?

7 Criteria to be a Change Agent Leader

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In my observation, many leaders want change and know they need to lead change, but they haven’t been able to actually produce change. I think there are reasons for this. The process of change isn’t easy. Not every church, business or non-profit will tolerate change…or at least to the level prescribed by a leader. Some leaders simply don’t know how. (That’s not a slam. It’s a reality statement.)

I believe change is necessary for growth. I don’t think everything has to change. Some things never should. But, change, even the hardest kind of change, has to occur if progress towards worthy visions is going to continue to occur.

This post is sort of a gut check for those who want to lead change.

If you want to be a change agent leader:

You have to be willing to fail - Not all change will work. You can strategize and plan, but change at some level involves the risk that it may not work. Are you prepared for that?

You need to be able to withstand criticism – Change invites pushback. Change changes things. (That’s deep, isn’t it?) Change is uncomfortable and people will tell you the degree of discomfort they are feeling. Sometimes in passionate…even mean ways. You’ll feel unpopular at times.

You must evaluate and be willing to adjust accordingly - You can’t be a change agent and equally be a control freak. You are leading people through sometimes muddy waters. You’ll need to solicit buy-in from others. You will need to collaborate. You’ll need to process the success rate of the change and recalibrate as needed.

You have to outlast the opponents of change – When the naysayers show up you’ll have to stand strong to the vision of change for which you believe is worth fighting. It will take longer than you hope it will at times and you’ll have to stand the test of time.

You must think bigger than today – Change is always going somewhere new. Always. So you have to be able to think about the options that aren’t currently on the table. You’ve got to think beyond now and even beyond the most immediate future. You have to look for what others can’t see, choose not to or are afraid to see (or admit).

You have to challenge status quo - That’s the kicker, isn’t it? You have to go against the way things are being done and the way things have always been done. We are talking about change. Get it? Change. That means something is changing. (Oh, such a deep post.) You have to move people from the center on which they’ve grounded themselves.

You have to have a DNA in which to work that is conducive to change – And here’s another kicker. Every church and every organization in which you are called to bring change isn’t wired for change. The fact is that some of those said churches and organizations are going to die…they’ll stall…perhaps for long periods…but they’ll eventually just fade away…and nothing you can say or do will encourage otherwise. In the end, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go. The sooner you can learn that fact the quicker you can try to be a change agent where change will actually occur.

Well, those are some hard realizations. I’ve studied and observed them by working with dozens of churches, businesses and non-profits and in the organizations and churches in which I have led.

What have you seen as necessary criteria to be a change agent?