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How to Lead Change when Change is Hard

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Leading through change to create brighter futures
Leading through change to create brighter futures

The Context of Change Management

When I was a bright-eyed young change management consultant, I was often asked to write emails or speeches for leadership meant to rally the troops through the hard parts of change. The edits were always consistent: remove any mention of the hardships of the change, and focus on the positive, the bright side, the carrot!

Here’s the thing: if you tell people there is food on an empty table, you are forcing them to believe that you are either disingenuous, or dangerously out of touch. People stop trusting you. Keep at it, and your advisors will start handling you with kid gloves, no longer candid about challenges and concerns. Suddenly, you actually ARE out of touch with your organization, unable to see the red flags.

Leadership Challenges

So, how do you exude optimism while also acknowledging real challenges? The answer is “Yes, And.”

(Bet you didn’t think you’d be reading about Churchill and improv today, but here we are…)

During the WWII Air Raids on London, Winston Churchill’s speeches were credited with rousing the hearts of the British, who were living daily with the horrifying unpredictable threat of death by bombing. According to Erik Larson in The Splendid and The Vile, Churchill’s speeches employed a powerful pattern, “offering a sober appraisal of facts, tempered with reason for optimism. ‘It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour,’ [Churchill] said. ‘It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.’”

Effective Strategies for Change Management

The hard work of leadership - true optimism - is acknowledging hardships, and still believing that you have the infrastructure to create a brighter future. Basically, “YES this is hard… AND we can make it better.”

Finding the right words is actually not the hard part. Without the work to believe it, your words will ring false. With this work, you’ll convert team members to advocates and generals.

So, what’s the challenge that your people are grappling with today? Achieving real inclusion? A pandemic? A new technology? New leadership and expectations? How can you Yes, And in the face of real challenges?

If you’re ready to develop leaders who can help others thrive through change, or build your own public speaking toolbelt, Let’s talk!

I got your back,



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