love change

Leading change : How to LOVE CHANGE

Love change when leading change is not easy.

Leading change is complex and challenging, so we’re going to show you how to Love Change and transform your results!  Everyone who ever writes about change (especially me) normally thinks about change in terms of Kubler-Ross curves, whether in the back of their mind or front and centre of their thinking. In my view using Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work from the 60s on the emotional impacts of grief during bereavement as a basis for simply outlining the personal reactions to change is still as relevant as ever.

In summary, Kubler-Ross’s research has been extended, adapted and applied across various other subject areas including the emotional impacts of change. For the purposes of this article, an appreciation of the basic model is sufficient – the emotions expressed during a change programme are likely to be:

  • Denial (and shock) – clinging to a false sense of the past. “It’s OK, it won’t happen” “I like the status quo”. There is a sense of fear of the unknown, and performance tends to decline.
  • Anger – when the realisation that denial can’t continue hits. “It’s not fair” “Why me?” “How can ‘they’ do it to ‘us’?” The organisation or an individual tends to become the focus of demonstration of anger, from non-compliance through open hostilities. Suspicion and scepticism are rife. Performance plummets.
  • Bargaining – is there a compromise? “Can I avoid the consequences?” “What’s in it for me?” Once there is a realisation that the change will happen, there is usually a sense of trying to make the best of the change. Performance tends to improve.
  • Depression – a final recognition that the change will happen. “Why do I bother?” A sense of apathy and remoteness is probably the deepest chasm, with perhaps a regret of not being actively involved and helping to steer the course. Performance either stagnates or declines.
  • Acceptance – eventually a recognition that one has to just get on with it. “Accept the inevitable.” People start to work with the change, look for opportunities, actively embrace and hope that the change is a success. Performance improves.

Unfortunately people, being people, do not all pass through these emotional states at the same rate! Some will never really move through the states, but we need everyone to be at least compliant and accept the change.

What has all this got to do with learning to Love Change? Well, leading change mostly entails helping stakeholders through the change. Stakeholders are anyone who is in any way impacted by your change or has a stake in its operation, traditions or ongoing success – colleagues, team members, politicians, board and executives, suppliers, customers. Whoever they are they will be going through a series of emotions, changing occasionally, maybe day-by-day, perhaps minute-by-minute. Leadership in change is about supporting this process, making it as easy as possible, reacting to the telltale signs, but ultimately delivering enduring change and consequently your vision of the future.

So…getting people to engage in change isn’t easy. Getting them to accept change isn’t easy. Getting people to adopt change isn’t easy. Leading change is not easy! I have a mnemonic to help change leaders think about how to become successful in leading gut-wrenching change.


Lead Lead from the front, and be highly visible. Don’t hide behind a programme team, or the consultant that you have hired to help you. Never shy away from the difficult. Just accept that it isn’t easy leading change. Actively seek challenges to your change. It can’t be “my way or the highway!”
Openness Being as open as you can in everything – you must earn and build trust. Open communications channels, two-way – but listen more often than talk. Be truthful – there is no point telling one person one thing and another something else – they will find out. Smoke and mirrors just adds to suspicion and scepticism.
Value Value people and their opinions – and be seen to consider and react to them.
Elevate your thinking Try to lead. It is difficult to lead when you are wading through the day-to-day detail, but work out what suits you as a means of gaining clarity of thought. Make sure you write down a plan, key actions and then execute and maintain them – this will help free up thinking space.
Coaching Coaching and mentoring is key. Help people understand the path through the change, and the actions they can personally take. Get coaching, counsel or mentoring yourself – don’t be alone.
Hearts and heads Help people through their emotions, but also help them get emotionally engaged.  Help them in any way you can. Grow strong relationships, with and between stakeholders. Think about hearts as well as heads.
Appreciate personalities People have personalities and deal with emotions and activities in different ways. Respect that, and work out how you can take actions that reflect personality traits. One size doesn’t fit all.
Nurse egos Egos need nurturing and nursing, everyone is different. Remember that.
Gauge trust Monitor trust. You need to know whether you are trusted by monitoring for behaviours and actions – if people are merely paying lip service to your change, it will fail.
Engage widely But don’t try to do everything yourself. Get people involved by taking action, making sure they are aware of what is happening and why. Consider how you can get engaged people to become change makers and consequently engage others.

This is inevitably a huge subject, and leading change is not easy. Leaders all have personal traits and style preferences. However as a change leader you need to deliver enduring change and your vision. But people are involved. People stop change. Learn to LOVE CHANGE.

David Walker is a specialist in leading major Change Programmes and a key member of The Change Maker Group.

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