I tell a story in leadership workshops about how three fictional people face a change in leadership and direction at their organization.
Jane embraces change. When a new opportunity comes along, she is ready to make the most of it. She quickly learns about the new goals and works to create ways to implement them.
Sean doesn’t mind change at work if he believes it’s worthwhile and going to be successful. He watches the change first and then jumps in after he’s had a chance to see how it is going. He’s a skeptic who wants to watch how the scenario plays out before he takes part. Once he does, he will have useful and practical suggestions to make the new way of doing things work.
The last person is Al. He hates change. He goes kicking and screaming all the way when forced into a change. Once, when a change of process happened at work, he said, “Things were better when Elaine was in charge.” A co-worker answered, “Elaine retired 10 years ago.” Al’s mantra is “If it’s working even a bit, don’t change it.”
Then I ask the participants to tell me what those three people are doing 10 years from now. They consistently tell me the same stories. Jane is running the company. Sean is one level up in management, maybe. Al has been fired and is living under a bridge.
I find these responses fascinating. Although many of us resist change, we recognize that the people who embrace change have the best chances at success.
In my systems coaching training, CRR Global defined these three roles as Leaper, Bridge Builder, and Traditionalist. Jane is a Leaper, Sean is a Bridge Builder, and Al is a Traditionalist.
In reality, all three roles have value. If everyone leaped, we’d all be in a constant state of flux. Bridge Builders make sure the change makes sense and help find practical ways to make it happen. Traditionalists ensure that foundational values and people are not forgotten.
Here’s the really interesting bit – we can adopt different roles depending on the situation. We might be a leaper when facing a major change at work, but be a tradition holder when it comes to trying new types of food. We might even be a tradition holder who prefers peanut butter and jelly all the time.
Changes in technology might put us squarely in the Tradition Holder role as we resist learning new software, or we might be the ones waiting in line for the latest gadget. The roles we fill can change with the situation that we are facing.
As leaders, we face a lot of change. In each situation, it’s important to first identify our preferred change role. Is our first impulse to be a Leaper, a Bridge Builder, or a Traditionalist? Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and great leadership. Then we manage our response and figure out how to help everyone else.
We can harness the energy of the Leapers, logically engage the Bridge Builders, and ensure the Tradition Holders feel listened to and valued. When trying to orchestrate an organizational change, the Tradition Holders can seem like an immense pain in the rear.
However, Tradition Holders can quickly help us find possible problem areas and also help to ensure what is useful and valuable is not lost in the shuffle.
In general, when change happens at work we want to get through it with as much ease as possible. Time spent resisting change is time not spent on achieving organizational goals. By identifying the roles our employees are filling, we can craft a response that helps everyone move ahead with positivity and intention.
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