by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Organizations, both big and small, often face chasms between what they are currently doing and what they want or need to do. These moments in time can be very difficult for organizations as they can cause incredible pressure to build on the shoulders of the leaders. The biggest pressure comes from the expectations of organizational stakeholders to make the change happen quickly. As the leader stands at the precipice of the chasm of needed change, they feel the push from behind to jump headlong across the chasm hoping to make it to the other side successfully. In their head though, they are cautious about the change. William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, claims that the biggest problem is that organizations often “expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to the other, and that takes time.” Organizational change cannot occur overnight, nor can one simple meeting solve every issue. Noted leadership expert, Ron Heiftez, points out that for change to be successful, people in the organization “need time to see their lives in a different light – to change their images of the future and the plans nurtured over a lifetime.” The stakeholders in the change process should be aware of the fact that the pressure for immediate change will serve only to choke off successful change, as the pressure will suffocate the will of the people.
The rushing of the process and improbable expectations of immediate change can halt a leader’s ability to mobilize the organization. Thus, leaders should be fully aware of this notion, and counteract its negative effects through influence, motivation, and communication. A leader’s ability to influence and motivate the stakeholders in his or her organization is the key to true change. However, as Heifetz point out, the leader needs to be careful not to “challenge the system too far and too fast and invite his or her own suppression.” This idea coincides with the notion of giving the work back to the people so that they develop the interest and need for change. Rather than forcing change, leaders need to cultivate an environment where change is grown through the people. The leader needs to continue to push the stakeholders to develop this interest in change without rushing too fast and too far. An organization will not change on its own without leadership and so the leader needs to walk the fine line between pushing too hard and not pushing enough.
For the transformation of organizations to occur, the stakeholders need to realize what noted organizational expert, Peter Senge states: “new insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.” As an organization stands at the precipice overlooking the chasm filled with turmoil, chaos, and failure, it needs to open itself up to new possibilities and new images of the future. Organizations cannot continue to stand in the rut of a stationary system that does not grow and does not modify itself to fit into current American society. Although management cannot be the force of change, they do play an integral role in the change process. Through their authority and the use of transformational leadership strategies, they can be the catalyst for adaptive change in the organization. The key is in their ability to mobilize others within the organization to feel the need for change, plan out the change, and then take action towards the change. This is the key to effective organizational leadership during times of change.
Leaders who try to make the jump across the chasm by themselves, as they pull the weight of the entire organization will surely find themselves at the bottom of the great divide. Leaders who try to push others across the divide will end up losing their followers in the chasm. The only way to move forward is for the leaders to build the change process with their followers. The only way to bridge the divide is to work together towards a goal of change that will have a positive impact on the organization. The task is not simple, but then again, is change ever simple and easy? The bridging of the chasm may look to be a daunting or even an impossible task for leaders of organizations, but through effective leadership strategies the beginnings of a bridge across the great divide can be built. Change takes time, patience, effort, communication, and motivation. These become the foundational pillars for the bridge that spans the chasm of change.