Preserve the Best, Re-Invent the Rest
Times of transition always mean change. Leadership is not about merely riding inevitable change or even using it to gain advantage. Rather leadership is about serving others by harnessing and driving change.
True leaders do not accept current constraints and conditions and “the way things are”; instead, they understand their core purpose is to challenge the status quo and change the order of things for the better. Still, leaders are realistic and recognize that change is always diﬃcult. Even positive, productive, perhaps long-overdue change is always challenging to pull oﬀ and time-consuming to execute. Change, even when necessary, is always met with resistance and resentment. There are always setbacks, even failures, as something new is undertaken. The initial enthusiasm for change, which generates momentum and support, can wane as the going gets tough.
In any transition and for every leader the key questions are therefore “How much change?" “What should change?” and “When should it change?”
Prioritization and sequencing matter. If too much is attempted too soon, failures will inevitably occur and momentum and support are lost. Change programs cannot be successfully undertaken without suﬃcient preparation and organizational readiness. In truth, trying to do too much and tackling everything all at once are as fatal to successful change as doing too little and waiting too long.
While successful change does not require unanimity, it does require a critical mass of support. Resistance to change is always present and usually comes from those who fear they will lose something important as changes occur.
For all these reasons, wise leaders also ask another, frequently forgotten, but equally important set of questions: “What continues to serve us well?” or “What did we used to do that will serve us well again?” or “What can we still be proud of and celebrate?”
Even when transformational change is required, there are aspects of any situation, team or organization that already exist and should stay the same because they will serve the future well. A leader has the courage to tackle change and the wisdom to leave some things as they are. A leader communicates a powerful case for change while at the same time celebrating all the contributions, people, habits, values and processes that existed before the transition and will continue to provide strength. It’s easier for all of us to let go of some things when we know we can hang onto others.
Successful change of any magnitude requires a balance. Preserve the best and re-invent the rest.