Leading in Times of Change

Things change so rapidly that change has become normal, expected, and for some – desired. Change is often subtle, yet sometimes it comes at us with such ferocity that it is overwhelming. For many, leading in times of change is not easy even when subtle, and it’s easy to understand why. Change generates uncertainty and threatens our ability to be in control. It’s natural to feel anxiety. Problem is, change is also natural. As Benjamin Franklin so wisely stated in the 1700’s:

“When we’re finished changing, we’re finished.”



Leaders must first work to understand leading in times of change. We often downplay some of the most basic concepts of change.Many people in leadership roles are not threatened by change. People who see “big picture” welcome change as theyhave an ability to visualize how the change will impact the whole. As a result, leaders sometimes have difficultyassessing the intensity of the impact at ground level.

What are they leaving out of the equation? Probably the biggest factor is that change – no matter how small – takes timeto implement. Just making a change and saying so, doesn’t make it so. If employees haven’t bought in, you might getcompliance but little more. Change experts agree that employees go through five stages as they make the transition –much like the five stages of grief!


  1. SHOCK is Denial happens here. People have a hard timebelieving this is for real!
  2. EMOTION is next, usually Once the shock wears off,people get upset and need to express their feelings.
  3. BARGAINING follows. Maybe the change doesn’t have to be asradical as we first thought? Employees begin to question
  4. DEPRESSION accompanies all change. It really is a grieving process. Even when change is good there is reason to pause. We naturally have feelings of loss and we grieve these losses no matter how insignificant they may seem.
  5. ACCEPTANCE finally This occurs when people have come to understand the change on anintellectual and emotional level. Only then can they move on.

This process cannot be charted out on a timeline. Experts tell us that it takes 1 to 1 ½ years to work through these fivestages – and that doesn’t mean 2 to 4 months each. Every person moves through the phases at their own rate. It is possible for a person to get stuck in any one of these stages. Moving on may be extremelydifficult, or even impossible.

Bottom line, acceptance of change will not be immediate. It takes time. We must be aware of the stages of change andprovide support. Otherwise, employees with best intentions will begin to resent what is happening. They may becomeemotionally or physically ill. They may become “difficult.” Burnout and turnover may occur.


When leaders have an understanding of change, there are steps they can take to prepare their employees for change.

  • A leader must be able to look forward and find the positive impact of change – even when the leader him orherself has been “victimized.”
  • Creating and communicating a positive vision of the future, is The leader must be able to createoptimism and provide encouragement.
  • Leaders must learn to lean on the knowledge, skills, and innovation possessed by their Remember,you cannot expect people to buy in to changes when they have not been part of creating solutions.
  • Empowerment, delegation, and trust must be part of the daily
  • Little wins should be celebrated



CARES Program blog contributed by:

Lorna Kibbey, owner of Lorna Kibbey Leadership Solutions, designs and delivers management and leadership motivational speeches, seminars, and services to public and private sector organizations. She has achieved recognition in the State of Florida as a Certified Public Manager and was recognized as “Best Boss of the Year” in a nationwide initiative.

Learn more about Lorna’s seminars: Managing in a Virtual World, Right Person, Right Time, and Leading in Times of Change and how to access customized consulting through the Collin SBDC CARES Program.