Published March 25, 2014
For many of us -- especially those who had lost count of the polar vortexes by mid-January -- winter can't end soon enough this year. But the transition is rarely an orderly one.
It often starts with a deceptively sunny day in February. Everybody breaks out their light jackets and starts talking about taking walks at lunch, and then a couple of days later comes a blast of freezing temperatures and new snow, which in turn gives way to chilly rain and slush. People trot out the old joke about "if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes."
That's the nature of most transition. Even when you know you're moving steadily toward the new, progress can feel halting and unpredictable in the short term.
Periods of organizational change bring particular challenges, as well. Whether it's a sale or merger, a change of management, or adjustment to a changing regulatory climate or market forces, these are the times when skilled leadership becomes more important than ever.
Here are some techniques that can help you lead and even inspire those around you when the seasons are changing:
Be ready for anything. Some March days require you to pack a week's worth of clothing and gear-coat, gloves, and hat for the morning, a lightweight sweater for the afternoon, a windbreaker, boots to cut through the slush, an umbrella for the rain. Leading through change means considering and planning for a wider range of contingencies than usual.
Communicate. When people talk about the weather, they bring their own theories, biases, and memories, whether it's the outcome of Groundhog Day, the relative reliability of different forecasters, or recalling how the sky looked before that really bad storm in '82. Within teams, nothing fires up speculation and rumors like organizational change, and nothing shuts down the rumor mill faster than open, transparent communication.
Don't overpredict. The best forecasters always leave a little room for uncertainty -- they give you the odds, and you'll never hear them use the percentages zero or 100. They tell you the thinking behind their prediction, and they tell you when they just don't know. Similarly, remembering to adjust for perspective and uncertainty when you communicate improves your personal credibility and the overall level of trust within the organization.
Point people toward the big picture. Like everyone who's ever slid home on icy streets and spent an evening with a seed catalog, you know that this transitional time won't last forever. But that reality can be hard to see at times, so find ways to remind others -- and yourself -- to plan not only for the transition but also for the new reality that it is ushering in.
Fly some kites. Some changes, like some forecasts, are more welcome than others. But even in times of great difficulty and uncertainty, there are ways to lift spirits. Commemorate birthdays and other events, and set aside time for the kinds of activities that relieve stress and bring your team closer together. Even a simple lunch brought in for everyone to share can be a welcome chance to stop and enjoy one another's company.
Things change. Maybe this time of year is a reminder of that truth, and of the importance of learning to lead yourself and others through its storms and sunshine.
Jeremy Kingsley is a professional speaker, best-selling author, and the President of OneLife Leadership. Jeremy holds bachelors and masters degrees from Columbia International University. He is the author of four books, his latest is titled: Inspired People Produce Results (McGraw Hill 2013). Jeremy lives in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife and two sons.