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Part 1: Owning Your New Normal - First Steps in Leading During Uncertain Times

Jonathan Udoka Change tiles

Change is a constant. Some changes we experience are expected, others are not. But we can always count on things to change. Right now, we are experiencing unexpected changes on steroids. In order to be effective, we have to change how we think about change.[1] As leaders at any level, it is important – now maybe more than ever – to shift our mindset to one of embracing and leveraging change. To shift our mindset to one of leading change.

Recently, I attended a webinar with the Studer Community Institute, Leading Change in Times of Uncertainty and Disruption. The discussion was led by Kristie Tobias, an innovative and dynamic national consultant, and speaker with Huron Healthcare. In order to lead change, we first need to own the new normal.

Identify the Voices in Your Head.

All change is uncomfortable. Rapid unexpected change can be exhausting. In these times, you may hear your frustrated inner voice. "This is hard." "I don't know what to expect next." "I'm exhausted." You're not alone.

Don't ignore your inner voice. When confronted with change it is important to acknowledge candidly how you feel. Your inner voice may be negative, but you need to acknowledge it to get past it. You can't just ignore it.

Personally, I like to write it down. Get it out of your head and onto paper (or digital). Read it back. Ask, where is this coming from? Is this just leftover talk from others that have doubted me in the past? Are there legitimate concerns? And most importantly, what's the first step to resolving this fear?

Gauge Your and Your Team's Emotional Progress.

All of us must process change. Love it or hate it, to get through change we deal with a range of emotions while processing change. First is shock or denial. We don't like the changes, and we just ignore them. "This isn't really happening." Next is frustration. We know the change is real, but we're just angry that we have to deal with it, or that it's been forced on us, or that others just don't understand. Next is sadness. We're sad from losing the old normal, we don't want to push forward, we just want to stop. Resignation is when we become passive. We don't like the change, and we feel like there's nothing we can do. We just check out.

Then the magic begins. Curiosity is when we start to explore new options that are available because of the change. Here we start to reshape our outlook. Maybe it's not as bleak as we thought before; maybe we can thrive even more. Next, we move toward acceptance. We know that things will be ok. We are safe and secure and hopeful. Finally, we reach adoption or commitment. We're invested in the new normal and there's no turning back. What was it we did before? We don't miss it.

So, check with yourself. Where are you on the chart? Can you recall going through the prior stages? If you're early on, do you believe you'll move toward commitment? Check with your team. Where is each team member? Knowing yourself and your team will help you adapt your motivation strategies with yourself and your communication strategies with your team. We're in this together, and we're not just going to survive, but improve through the change.

Jonathan Udoka - Emotional Response to Change Curve

Manage the Phases of Change.

Just as all change has emotional phases, it also has functional phases.

We start with unconsciously unskilled. We don't know what we don't know. In this stage, not only do we not know the relevant information, but we don't even know that we need to know it or that we lack it. To move out of this stage takes personal awareness, and we can employ tools like a SWOT analysis or other tools to take a candid look at the situation.

Next, we move to consciously unskilled. Here, we know we need to learn. Others around us are much more advanced than we are. They complete tasks with much more ease. This is where we need to be on guard to not lose heart, and where we should seek out training and support to learn what's needed to keep progressing.

Next, we'll become consciously skilled. We know we have gained some skills, and confidence is increasing. In this stage, we build faith in our new skills through practice and repetition. We progress through this stage by looking for opportunities to deploy the new skillset as often as possible. Give yourself plenty of time for mastery. Rinse. Repeat.

Finally, we become unconsciously skilled. Here, we effortlessly deploy the new skillset. Here, we complete important tasks or make important decisions without conscious effort. It's baked into us, and we are confident of success.

As you can see below, this is a cycle. Once we've mastered an area (and often before), expect more change. Change is a constant process, and we must consistently pivot to keep moving forward.

Lean into the Attributes Needed to Own the New Normal.

If you're going to move your team through the change process, and shorten the gap toward emotional adoption or commitment, you'll need to deploy certain attributes; transparency, dexterity, and resilience.

Transparency means being honest and open about and with ourselves, our business, and with others. When we increase our transparency, we can recenter on our core values. While this might seem novel at times, it is as old as history itself. Prior to 500 B.C. in The Art of War, Sun Tzu shared his thoughts on how the process of transparency is vital to success. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. The first step is always to dig deep to know what you're made of.

Dexterity means the ability to allow yourself to adapt, adjust, and be flexible to a new way of leading. When we anticipate change, we can be prepared to pivot. Great leaders pivot during unexpected changes. Once you've made your way through the emotional change curve, you begin to explore new opportunities. The new landscape always provides new opportunities.

Resiliency means that you are ok with not being ok. You allow yourself the grace to be uncertain about your next steps. You don't have all the answers. That's ok. Our job is to resist the urge to stop. Press on, with the grace to know that you're ok right where you are. You can always take the next step. Just don't stop.

[1] Studer, Quint, The Busy Leader's Handbook: How to Lead People and Places that Thrive, John Wiley & Sons (2020). Chapter 10.

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