One Lesson Leaders Can't Miss About Change

One Lesson Leaders Can't Miss About Change
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read
Change is something that happens to people, even if they don't agree with it.  Transition is internal: it's what happens in people's minds as they go through change.  Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.”  –William Bridges

I’ve been leading people through change for 30 years. 

I wish I had realized earlier the difference between change and transition. 

Change was a strategic issue.  Change was a logistics issue, a decision science.  Change could be figured out in an hour or so with a whiteboard and a pot of fresh coffee.

Transition is messy and emotional, and often deals with things we don’t want to engage with.

Transition–the experience of going through change–was an afterthought.  The mission was king.  The bottom line wins every time.  People will come around.  And I knew all the stats about early adopters and late adopters.  Change management became a sum game of acceptable losses for the greater good.

But when I began to understand the difference between change and transition, I learned the key lesson that leaders can’t miss.

All change carries loss.  

Change means we have left something behind to do something else.  And the stuff left behind, well, that’s a loss.  It may not be traumatic, but it is still there, lurking below.  I love what William Bridges, the "godfather" of Transition Thinking, says:

You don’t cross the line separating change management from transition management until you have asked “Who will lose (or has lost) what?”--Bridges

Loss of security, of relationships.  Loss of decisions you used to make or space you used to occupy.  Loss of identity or even purpose.   

Even good change carries loss.  Four days ago we dropped off our third child at college.  This was a huge change and a huge win. It is the right time for him to go.  He is going to the right place.  This is the right next step for his journey.  Right.  Right.  Right.

So why do I walk into his empty room and wander around?  Because all people experience change–even good change–as loss.

Savvy leaders recognize this, and they determine not to rush past or brush off loss; they lean in.  They name the losses.  They identify the people affected.  Naming a loss is not a negative, nor does it mean the change isn't good.  It just means we are aware of the transition cost of the change, and we can plan for that.  

For my son’s departure, we held a family dinner and talked about what left our house when he did.  We named the losses.  And we thought about ways to deal with that loss.  We surfaced the vague and named it.  And in naming it, we robbed it of some of its power.  Good leaders lean into loss.

What change are you contemplating?  Have you paused to lean into the loss that will accompany this change, the transition cost? 

Leaning into the loss will help you navigate the transition well.  

Facing transition–life stage, career, location, health–on your own can carry hidden rocks beneath the surface.   The best way to navigate transition is not to fight it, or “just get through it,” but to find a trusted transition guide to lead you through.

How will you begin to name and navigate the loss in your transition? I'd love to talk with you more about this. Shoot me an email and let's start navigating your transition today.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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