In June, many years ago there was plenty of activity in our household. The cause was the impending departure of our oldest son, Dan, who was preparing to begin his internship, as a Director of Christian Education. He was going to San Lorenzo, California for at least a year. The energy was positive and full of excitement. We purchased needed items like a car (Rav 4) and a futon. He packed clothes and items he wanted to take because he wasn’t coming back for a while. He was excited. It was exhilarating for us too, with him and for him. Yes, we’d miss him (we’d grown quite fond of him in the previous 22 years), but his focus and ours was on going. There Is nothing more stimulating than planning for a trip, an adventure, even when there are unknowns.
February 13, 2003, I was packing up my office. My job of 25 years was eliminated, and my last day would be tomorrow. I was leaving an organization I loved, a team a loved, and people I enjoyed working with. It was an emotional night with tears. My focus was leaving, and I had no idea where I was going. Questions swirled in my mind about what was next for me and there were no answers. I reflected on a place where I had known great success and joy, but I knew it was now in the past. My energy wasn’t positive, it was being drained. Leaving often brings grief along for the ride, and it was in the seat next to me. When your focus is on leaving, it’s hard to be excited.
Going and leaving are linked together because you can’t go somewhere new without leaving somewhere you’ve been. Change triggers the process of leaving and going. For some, it will be a simple change because they focus on going. For others, it will begin a transition (change that impacts you psychologically and emotionally) because the focus is on leaving, it’s all about the loss.
Job #1 – If you are leading an organization through change, you must help people quickly shift from focusing on leaving to focusing on going. Here are three tips to help.
- Acknowledge the elephant – Yes, the elephant is their loss, don’t minimize it. Doing so helps no one and instead it has the opposite effect causing resistance, making people hold on tighter to the loss. We hate loss because we can’t fix it. Loss is grief. Do the opposite. Talk about it. Recognize and celebrate it. Mark it in a special way to say good-bye that has meaning for everyone. In whatever you do, involve those who are losing or struggling the most in planning to help them move through their grief.
- Plan the future together – Leaders mistakenly believe they accelerate the acceptance of change by scripting everything out and having all the answers. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In doing so, you’ll take away the best tool to help people shift their focus on going. When someone is involved in planning, it helps them accept they are going somewhere there is a mind shift and a focus on going.
- Don’t focus on the naysayers – “The world is going to end”, or something like that. You know them, the people who see impending doom in any change. You might believe by investing time listening and working with them you’ll convince them to accept the change. If you try that, “You have chosen poorly.” It’s not in your power, don’t waste your time. They will accept and move on when everyone around them has accepted and moved forward, not by you convincing them.
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ Joshua 4: 1-3, 21-22