Regardless of your position in an organization, leading in times of change is different. Leading change is significantly different than navigating change. Or simply surviving it. The reality is that leading while maintaining the status quo doesn’t involve the same complexities and challenges that are associated with moving into uncharted territory. As Captain Kirk would say, leading change means going boldly where no one has gone before… As such, I would argue that it requires a unique set of skills and abilities.

The following are attributes that I believe are necessary to lead change.

  1. Passion. Enthusiasm and conviction is infectious. The ability to inspire and motivate others, especially when change can involve difficult decisions, is essential. Although we need those around us to ultimately take ownership of any new direction or path, a leader’s passion can spark the initial movement and momentum.

2. Transparency. Trust and open communication is integral to any organization. Individuals need to understand why change is necessary, what the intended outcome is, and how we’re going to get there. They need to be partners in the process, not simply passive participants. As well, the reality is that not every initiative is successful. Leading change means admitting that we don’t have all of the answers, that we make mistakes. If we have worked to foster trusting relationships with those around us, individuals will continue to support us during more difficult times.

3. Resilience. There will never be a scenario where change is embraced wholeheartedly by an entire organization. Leading change means being able to shoulder dissenting opinions and sometimes outright hostility. Sometimes described as a “thick skin”, the ability to not take “personal attacks” personally is key. Leaders need to be able to maintain a calm and consistent demeanour.

4. Empathy. Change can be unsettling. It can be a time of uncertainty and flux. Even when the changes that are being implemented are leading to something better, leaders need to understand that leaving behind familiar routines and expectations can lead to anxiety, even anger in some individuals. Leaders also need to be empathetic towards those individuals who are simple unable to accept change. They can’t let that halt their progress, but they can treat these individuals with patience and compassion.

5. Courage. Even with the knowledge that change is necessary to move our schools and districts forward, it can be overwhelming to face the prospect of leading during transformative times. For those of us who have experienced significant change, we know that it can be “messy”. Leaders may feel the same anxiety and ambivalence as those around them. But they have the confidence and courage to embrace those feelings of uncertainty with the understanding that it means they are moving forward into new learning and growth.

By seeing change as an opportunity for possibility rather as a problem to be solved, we are better equipped to face the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead. We are better able to lead change. As novelist Margaret Drabble wrote, “when nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

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