In Part One and Part Two of this article, I discussed organizational change and the Biblical examples of the methods Jesus applied in leading change in the world and how we as business leaders can apply them to the change initiatives we are sometimes called to lead.
So far, we’ve covered People, Messaging, and Timing. In this final segment it gets a little harder, as we address Resistance and then take a look at ourselves with Leader Character.
Change is challenging. It means giving up sometimes long-established habits, heading toward something unknown, and facing the very real possibility of failure.
It makes people uncomfortable.
Prepare your change agents ahead of time. Warn them in your meetings with them, both in the run-up to the start of the initiative and once the initiative gets underway, of what resistance might look like, and give them clear directions on what they should do when they encounter it.
You see, you will meet resistance. Small or large, active or passive, your organization will struggle with change. Because it’s difficult. And it makes people uncomfortable.
Even with your change agents working with you, not everyone in your organization will be 100% on board—some won’t be on board at all. There are the times you need to watch and really pay attention to your people and the effect they’re having on your organization through the change initiative.
Why? Because this is when you’ll see who’s really on your team. And who’s not.
Knowing this is going to happen, you need to be prepared. If you find someone—even one of your change agents—isn’t really committed to the mission and to being part of your team, you’ll need to know what you’re going to do. Decide ahead of time how you will handle it: Will you extend grace? Offer forgiveness? Cut them out of the initiative, the organization, or even out of your life? It isn’t pleasant to think about, but you need to be ready and know what you’ll do.
Ready a back-up plan for if that happens. Who will you shift responsibilities to? Who can you call upon to replace someone who’s abandoned the mission? Even the Apostles had to do this, as shown in Acts 1: 12–26, when Mathias replaced Judas.
Make sure, too, that you prepare your change agents as Jesus did with the Apostles, when He warned, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16-20). He gave them clear directions on what they should expect and what they should do when they encountered resistance. And it wasn’t to fight or be arrogant.
Let your change agents know, in no uncertain terms that they will meet resistance, and to do when facing it. Help them become ready for this as you meet with them and coach them to become a team that functions, as described in Philippians 2:2, “in full accord and of one mind.”
This your job as their leader.
Throughout the change effort, people will look to you to be trustworthy and consistent. Jesus proved to be trustworthy, and as he was tested time and time again, as indicated in Mark 10:45, He was unwavering in meeting the expectations of his duties.
He sets a high bar, for sure. Don’t be intimidated, but let His example inspire you. As you lead your organization through this change, strive to meet each of these efforts:
- Be trustworthy and consistent – make sure your people know that they can trust you, and that you’re never “feeding them a line: or saying something because it’s expedient at the moment.
- Don’t exaggerate or overpromise – make sure your people know that what you say will happen will happen.
- Give people autonomy in the change process – You can’t force people to change. You can only lead them to it and let them create the change within them.
- Extend grace, even to those who resisted or doubted – not everybody can see the path clearly, but you should still welcome them when you’ve reached the journey’s end. After the resurrection in John 20:24, Thomas didn’t believe. Instead of dismissing him or casting him out Jesus patiently spent time to “prove it.” He helped Thomas understand why he didn’t believe and then gave him what he needed so that he could believe. Understanding what people need to see or hear in order to become part of your change – to become a believer – is critical. Spend time throughout the initiative exploring what it is people need to truly believe. Is there something you need to say, or something you need to show them?
- Empower and trust your change agents –as discussed Part 1, they’re your “apostles” to whom you’ve given authority in this process. Trust them do what you’ve sent them out to do. Jesus didn’t shame or blame his disciples if someone they brought the message to didn’t believe or accept—their job was to deliver the message, not to change hearts.
- Make sure it’s clear to them that their role is not to change people’s hearts, but only to deliver the message. Be gentle on your team and ask them simply to do their best—Don’t put the weight of the outcome on their shoulders. Remember, some plant and some water but God gives the harvest (Corinthians 3:7).
- Lead out of love for people – at the end of the day, everything we do is in service to others. As Mark 10:45 reminds us, Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve.” Remember that, especially when the spreadsheets and P&Ls begin to overgrow your vision.
- Be patient – Jesus was patient. Look at how He treated Peter after he lost courage in Mark 14:66-72. Poor Peter spent a lot of time pulling his foot out of his mouth. But Jesus understood Peter. And He forgave him hose moments, just like He understands and forgives us. Remember that when you work with your people, and understand that they are human and they won’t always be at their best. Again, be patient.
Now Go Forth
I’m sure you’ve read at least a few books on leadership. And some of them, I’m also sure, addressed at least some of the points I’ve covered. But in leading, especially leading through times of change, I think it’s good to look to the Bible and not only learn from Christ’s words but also emulate the methods and tactics He models for us in shepherding change. So I encourage you to read the Scripture and reflect on this.
Now, one last question before you go forth: of what I’ve discussed, what aren’t doing today that you could incorporate into your change leadership—right now?
Special acknowledgement and thank you to the mentorship and contribution from Lisa Nichols of Technology Partners https://technologypartners.net/ and Mike Hubbard of Genesis Eureka Church https://genesiseureka.com/.