Embracing Change Leadership

Embracing Change Leadership

With the start of a new year, everyone's talking about "change." Individuals set personal resolutions for change, and many organizations start applying change with new strategic plans, goals, and even new hires. As a leader, how you react to change is a key component of any long-term project or organization success. Below, YNPN Birmingham Board Chair Vanessa Stevens shares key tools and lessons she learned through participation in the AmEx Leadership Series about embracing change leadership.

As young nonprofit professionals, we face many changes at the beginning of our careers. We may move for a new job, decide to go to graduate school, or face organizational challenges like a new boss or a major new role within our organization.  Often there is that bittersweet emotion with change--that energy and anticipation mixed with some hesitation and anxiety. As emerging leaders at our organizations and YNPN chapters, we must also continue to adapt to necessary changes to overcome the many challenges the nonprofit sector faces.

At the American Express Leadership Academy, I learned how important it is to understand one's own change style and what people need from a leader during change.  All of the Academy participants completed an assessment called the Change Style Indicator that placed everyone along a spectrum from Conserver to Pragmatist to Originator. Each of these styles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. For example:

  • A Conserver gets things done on schedule and respects the rules yet may be perceived as rigid, discouraging of innovation, and delaying action by overly reflecting.
  • An Originator understands complex problems, provides future-oriented insights, and is risk-oriented, yet to others may appear impulsive and not understand how to actually get things done.
  • A Pragmatist fall in the middle. They can organize ideas into action plans, build cooperation, and are flexible and adaptive. They may seem indecisive, compromising, and trying to please too many people.
Because of the different strengths and pitfalls of each change preference, it is valuable to build teams with individuals across the spectrum. Moreover, understanding one's own tendencies helps you appreciate what others bring to the table, adapt your style to what may be necessary for the particular decision at hand, and understand why you may be frustrating the Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator at your organization (or likewise why they may be frustrating you).

As leaders, we not only need to understand our own change style, but also what change is and how to lead change successfully. At the Academy, the trainers emphasized the distinction between change and transition. Change is the beginning of something new, and it is experienced externally whereas transition is the ending and letting go that we experience internally. It is important to remember that change begins with an ending. Many people may struggle with this ending by demonstrating signs of grief, such as anger, denial, and disorientation.

Leaders must guide others through the ending towards a point where they begin to gain clarity and accept and manage change. If a leader provides no vision, then others are confused. If people feel they lack the skills to adapt to the change, they experience anxiety. Similarly, if they feel they lack the resources, they will be frustrated. Through clear communication and composure, a leader can ensure that an organization has vision, skills, incentives, resources, and a plan for action to lead change. Whether you are leading a new chapter like YNPN Birmingham, or an established chapter facing critical points in your growth, decision-making and change are constant parts of your work. Take steps to increase your own self-awareness of what you experience internally when facing a decision or going through a change and what perception others may have of you. Likewise, pay closer attention to what others might experience as a result of your decision and ensure they have the necessary tools to adapt to the change. As we learn to embrace change leadership, we hopefully will see less conflict, more innovation, and increased effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out our work and meeting our missions.

VanessaHeadShotVanessa Stevens is the Community Engagement & Education Program Coordinator at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit dedicated to the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanic families.  Previously, she was the Resource Development & Communications Director and an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is the Board President of the new YNPN chapter in Birmingham.  Prior to moving to Birmingham, Vanessa studied International Relations at American University in Washington, DC.

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