Leaders grieve and seize simultaneously.

To be a leader capable of fully grieving the loss while simultaneously seizing the opportunity. ~Michaela O’Donnell Long

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Most leaders today would agree on two things: (1) change is constant, and (2) leading change is one of the most difficult challenges leaders’ face.

Now 18 years ago, John Kotter in The Heart of Change said, “In an accelerating world, change visions are becoming bolder by necessity. More executives now believe that their visions must include being an industry leader, being a firm that is first into new markets, etc.” In 2020, that same drive for becoming bolder is alive and well.

In the midst of the vortex of change, leaders tend to believe that good communication is based on volume of information. However, Kotter also said, “Good communication is not just data transfer. You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision.”

Hold the Tension

It’s yet another way that leaders must hold the tension between two seemingly dichotomous feelings. The reason that Kotter titled his book The Heart of Change is because actually changing is far more emotional than it is logical. Think about it. When was the last time you had to make a major decision that would result in a big change? You did your research, you gathered your data, you may have created a spreadsheet. Then when it came time to make the decision, you said to yourself something like, “my gut is telling me to…” or “this just feels like the right thing to do.” We choose to change, or not, based upon how we feel.

Michaela O’Donnell Long, senior director of the DePree Center said, “Change comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the change that’s mostly grief and loss. And, there’s change that’s mostly hope and opportunity. But, in my experience, much of change is part loss and part opportunity. I’m learning, through trial and error, how to be a leader capable of fully of grieving the loss and while simultaneously seizing the opportunity.”

Loss AND Opportunity

Change is part loss and part opportunity. As a leader, can you hold that tension with those you are leading? Are you allowing people to grieve? Letting them be angry? Letting them feel the change? Or, are you so focused on the bold vision and seizing the opportunity that you have minimized their grief causing them to feel devalued?

I have found that many leaders forget that for almost every change in their organization, they, as the leader, have been contemplating, planning, and processing that change longer than anyone else. They had a head start. They are farther along the change process. But they somehow expect everyone else to virtually immediately catch-up. Everyone else should be able to skip right over the uncertainty, the discomfort, the frustration because you, the leader, have essentially done that for them. But that’s just not possible. Leaders can’t process change for others.

So, hold the loss and the opportunity, simultaneously. Let people feel the change. Stay focused on seizing the opportunity (be bold) and allow others to feel the pain of loss (make space for grace). Lead with bold grace.

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