What if professionals sought to lead through change, instead of managing it?

Multiple attempts have been made over the years to “manage change,” often with little effect. What if instead professionals at the helm of a department, division, university, or nonprofit sought to lead through change?

The concept of leading through change came to light for me after hearing Barbara Trautlein of Change Catalysts speak at the 2016 PA Association of Nonprofits’ annual conference. Reading Barbara’s book, taking the Change Intelligence assessment, and reviewing additional articles led to identifying three facts related to change:

  1. Change can be welcome or unwelcome – it’s more often unwelcome change that presents challenges.
  1. How a leader deals with change has a lot to do with how they, and their team members, frame the change (in other words, is it welcome,scary, too quick, etc.).
  1. Change is difficult, and many change initiatives fail, but there aresecrets to success(hint: one is to reframe the change as having the potential to bring joy).

Recently, Cheryl Kaplan, Director of Talent Management for the Division of Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State University, posted a piece on LinkedIn regarding a Harvard Business Review article about the connection between resilience and change. Here is 1 point to ponder:

Becoming resilient is key to building one’s capacity to lead through change. 

Change is difficult, and unwelcome change is even more challenging. For example, Rod Kirsch, former VP of Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State (now a Consulting Vice President with GG&A) dealt with more than one unwelcome change during his tenure — including the 2008 downturn and the Jerry Sandusky Scandal. It is of note that one of Rod’s first statements made following the scandal was that he intended to remain at Penn State and help move through the difficult days ahead. That’s resilience in action.

How does one build resilience? One might begin by reading this May 2002 HRB article by Diane Coutu, How Resilience Works, and reading about the Stockdale Paradox in Good to Great by Jim Collins (2001). Another resource that will be available in spring 2018 is an article co-authored by me and Dr. Barbara Trautlein: “Shifting landscapes and earthquakes: Leading through ever changing environments,” which will appear in the Journal of Education Advancement and Marketing.

Sophie W. Penney, PhD is the Senior Program Coordinator and Lecturer for Penn State’s all online Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership and is the founder of i5 Fundraising.

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