December 19, 2016 JLdpSiteteam

Ask the Leadership Coach

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Madame Curie

I wanted to begin my response to your question with the above quote from Marie Curie, the early twentieth century Polish physicist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. My reason is to help you help yourself and your team by being a student of organizational change. The moreyou understand, the moreableyou areto realistically assess possible outcomes and be emotionally present for your team. Being a learner will help you be curious about what is happening at your institution in a broader sense, and may help you convey a greater sense of calm and preditcability about the processes of change and what to expect.

Also, you are probably aware of the broader changes going on within higher education and the pressures on most all colleges and universities to reduce operating costs and refocus missions on students and the educational experience, including how curriculum is developed and delivered.

Your institution is one of many colleges undergoing such change.

Here are a couple of resources for you to get started:

  1. “Ten Reasons People Resist Change,” by Professor Rosabeth Kanter of Harvard Business School. I believe you can search for this brief article on the internet. Among Dr. Kanter’s ten reasons is past resentments. “The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight. But the minute you  need cooperation for something new or different, the ghosts spring into action. Old wounds reopen, historic resentments are remembered — sometimes going back many generations. Leaders should consider gestures to heal the past before sailing into the future.” Ten Reasons People Resist Change by Rosabeth Kanter, Harvard Business Review, September 25, 2012.
  2. Leading Change, by John Kotter, Harvard Business Review Press; First edition (November 6, 2012). One of Kotter’s expressions that sticks with me is his sense of some organizations being “over-managed” and “under-led”. In the context ofchange, this means that people are thirsty for leadership: transparency and integrity and communication and engagement. Also, Kotter suggests that those implementing change foster a sense of urgency within the organization. “A higher rate of urgency does not imply ever-present panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.” This thought may indeed scare you or your team, but the objective here is for you to help design and defineyour own future and your team’s. Bean active participant in the change process. It is better for you and your team’s well-being.

Being there for your team does not mean becoming a pollyanna. It means listening to your team members (and your own mind) and the messages and emotions coming forth. It means asking your team members what are they most concerned about with change, and what bases do they have for believing a particular outcome will happen. Propose alternative outcomes. What are some of the better possibilities at play? Ask them if they believe there is anything that you personally can do to help them cope with their fears. Ask them what they believethey, personally,can do to help themselves be prepared for a changing organization, such as more training and learn-
ing about other organizational roles and functions. Counter negative impressions or expectations by stating other more positive possibilities. This is called reframing. It is normal and natural to fear the worst, and an alert mind can help bring positive possibilities to the forefront.

You may find yourself able to influence organizational change by being a steady and reliable presence and advocate for your team and its functions. This means being a good listener and observer of the forces of change driving your institution.

Other advice? Ask yourself this question a few times a week: “How can I help my organization discuss change and implement change in the most effective ways that advance the college or university’s mission?” Take the broad view as a citizen of the campus. Do not be solely focused parochially on your office and function. Usethe opportunities of change to educate your campus about what roles your office plays and who the key stakeholders are (e.g. faculty, sponsors, regulators, students) that your team supports.

Put these words on sticky notesand put it next to your computer screen while your institution is going through this change process: “Be A Learner and A Teacher”.

Garry SandersGarry Sanders is an executive coach and graduate of Georgetown University’s Certificate Program in Leadership Coaching. Garry is a long-time research administrator and recipient of NCURA’s Distinguished Service Award. He can be reached at and (518) 588-0992.