A mistake that many newly hired or promoted leaders make is to overlook, disrespect or not take the time to understand the past.
When a leader honors and respects the people or changes that have been part of the past they can accelerate their own change agenda for the future. Exciting new ideas risk alienating people who have been with an organization when the new leader doesn’t take time to “listen before leading change.”
Tips for honoring the past while in the midst of change:
- Acknowledge Strength – Remind people of past successes. (If you can’t identify any then you need to investigate before you assume that everything is broken.) Talk about the value of what was learned and acknowledge the strengths that are being built upon rather than dismissing and replacing with the new.
- Be Clear about the Beginning and the End – change is the journey in the middle
When making a case for change there is a risk of two extremes. The first extreme is that a leader can create a threat response by talking about the current state as an impending disaster which dismisses the value of past accomplishments.
In the other extreme, a leader can focus solely on the vision for the future. They risk losing credibility with their followers when they don’t acknowledge the challenges of getting from where they are to the rosy future.
To make a change you need to be clear on where you are and why it’s not working. However, you must also be clear about where you are going so that everyone understands the path or the journey of change.
Connecting the old and the new creates continuity and supports productivity throughout a change. Disconnecting past, present and future creates dissonance and resistance.
As you lead through change, you must begin by meeting people where they are at. Acknowledge the strengths of the people and the organization, be clear about the beginning and end of the journey and you will honor the past which gives freedom for the future.