Leading Through Change

Leading Through Change

Imagine your supervisor comes to you and says, “Get ready! Things are about to change around here.” What thoughts or emotions instinctually rise to the surface? Are they positive or negative?

If you are like the majority of the population, the first thing you will probably feel is loss. Meaning, no matter the change about to take place, the initial emotions most likely to be felt are confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety, or even betrayal. Change comes at a cost and losing something is emotional—especially if it’s something that we care about, even in exchange for something great.

The reason so many transitions fail is that people fail to recognize loss.

This leaves us with only two routes to success: never change, or learn to lead through it. And we all know that one of these is more realistic than the other. In his book Transitions, William Bridges outlines three phases for effective leadership during a season of change:

  1. Letting go of the old thing
  2. Going through the transition
  3. Coming out the other side.

Too often, we expect people to skip over the second phase—jumping from the old thing to the new. This typically happens through an emphasis on the logistical needs for a transition while downplaying the relational and emotional dynamics.

There is anxiety where there is no clarity. There is frustration where there is no vision. There is fear where there is no hope. As leaders, we cannot gloss over people’s emotions in the midst of loss, but we also cannot let them wallow in negative emotions. We have to help them let go and move through to the other side.

Start by putting yourself in their shoes. How would you come alongside someone feeling the powerful-but-negative emotions stirred up by losing something important? When you create a safe environment for others to recognize and grieve their loss, you show empathy, build trust, and cultivate the soil in which your “new thing” can grow and flourish.

A great leader is able to acknowledge the pain of loss while building bridges to the positive emotions that come from the new thing.

As you move forward, your role is to help your team cross from negative emotions to positive ones by painting a vivid picture of what is next. Bridges uses the following framework:

  • Purpose: a compelling ‘why’ for the change to come
  • Picture: a vivid picture of what the future will look like
  • Plan: a simple, strategic action plan to get us there
  • Part: a role for each person, in relationship to others

Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be dysfunctional. If God is doing something new, we are responsible to lead our teams into that new thing well.

I’ll add one final word for leaders who are using or considering Rooted.

When you implement Rooted at your church, you initiate change. The Rooted Network is here to come alongside you and support you as you build bridges for your staff, volunteers, and congregation in the midst of transition. If you’re considering Rooted or are in the early stages of piloting, we’d love for you to join us at the next Launch Intensive—our team will help you contextualize Rooted for your church. We hope to see you soon!

Jared Kirkwood is the Discipleship Pastor, overseeing Rooted, Life Groups and all adult ministries designed to help people become more like Jesus and fearlessly change the world. Having been with Mariners Church for 16 years, Jared has served as our Junior High and High School Pastor, Lead Pastor for the Rooted Network, and as a teaching pastor. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Vanguard University and a Master’s in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. Jared is married to his wife Kim, and they have two ridiculously awesome kids, Asher and Ellie. Jared loves traveling to new places, preparing a meal for friends, and attempting to be a decent golfer.

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