How effective are you at leading change?


Not all, but many of my clients are becoming tired. The pandemic drones on. People suffer from isolation in various degrees, grief for their plans, and now – the ongoing changes.

In the last blog, I wrote about how leaders need to manage their emotional states to ensure their teams stay positive, creative and adaptable. I don’t mean to deny how you are feeling, but genuinely learn how to adjust your emotional state. You could read that again here if you missed it.

Today, I am addressing how you might reduce some of the stress you might be experiencing, and at the same time, be more effective at leading the changes you now need to initiate. The types of changes that I am currently seeing include new business models, right-sizing, and even rapid growth.

There are different types of change that I outlined here (previous blog); however, the most important thing to remember is the difference between first- and second-order change. (Heifetz, in his adaptive leadership framework, refers to these as technical and adaptive changes, respectively). It is not questioning if the Titanic will sink and choose to rearrange the chairs on the deck while it’s sinking, which is an example of first-order change. However, suppose we question the assumption that the Titanic can’t sink. In that case, we might choose a completely different action, like changing course and avoiding the iceberg – an example of second-order change.

Guess which form of change we all prefer? If you sit back and reflect, what types of changes you are engaging with now? To what degree are you assuming that you know the answers? New strategies are almost always second-order or adaptive changes. They require people to reassess what is most important to them or what they believe.

At present, people are still adapting to the pandemic. Where and when they work is shifting. This has implications for spending patterns. We are all adapting to the uncertain economic future too.

The research continues to show 70% (at least) of all organisational change initiatives fail.

Why? It’s essential to know the difference because the way you exercise your leadership needs to be different for each type of change.

First-order change means you can direct the rearrangement of the chairs. Ans this approach is very easy to revert to if you are somewhat stressed or tired.

Second-order change means you need to work with people to help them overcome their natural impulses not to question their assumptions and beliefs – and that includes yours too. Second-order changes tend to be more experimental in nature and are multi-pronged as people set our on an adventure to learn – and then change. The learning is often about understanding different perceptions of systemic issues – the interdependence between personal, cultural and structural elements

If you use a first-order, directive style for a change that is really a challenge requiring a second-order approach, you will probably not find an effective solution. And maybe that is why so many change efforts still fail to deliver their intended outcomes.

How effective are you leading changes now? Take a self-assessment here!

If you would like to learn more about leading second-order or adaptive change, join me for a FREE Author Q&A session for leaders as I share the ways in which my book, Big Little Shifts may help you. Or you may like to purchase the book.

I also offer a skill development program that accompanies the book that can be tailored for you and your team.