Leading with Compassion and Authenticity

business people activity standing and walkingOne of my favorite leadership books is “Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition” by Kerry Bunker and Michael Wakefield. For a business world awash in leadership titles, this one is a particular jewel because of its focus on the complex human dynamics of transition. I find that organizations are often quite adept at addressing the structural side of change – reorganizing, restructuring, creating new vision, mission, strategy, and so on. What I see far more struggle with is leading and attending to the human side of change – letting go, grieving loss, building hope, and exhibiting compassion.

With high expectations and great demands on our time, the tendency is to fast forward through, or skip altogether, the space needed to reflect on and process the emotional impact resulting from change. But when these emotions are not accepted and addressed as natural and important components, resistance can intensify over the change continuum.

In my career, I’ve served in a number of executive leadership roles for nonprofit organizations. Often, we faced significant organizational change that involved not only our own organization, but also stakeholders and other partnering community groups.

From my experiences, I’ve learned that addressing the delicate human dynamics of change is absolutely critical. A question I ask is “where do you want the pain?” For me, it’s  a point of either leaning in to these elements early on – shortly after the change event is announced and acknowledged – or coming back to it later in the process when an organization is trying to implement new process and structure. I find it far better (after much practice, and even failure) to meet it early on. It’s arduous, messy, the process takes longer…and it is absolutely the right thing to do. Get it right, and the resultant implementation can soar.

From these experiences, I’ve grown as a leader, developing compassion, concern, and genuine care for my team and others – a much-needed muscle to lead effectively. Early on, it didn’t come naturally. I wanted to move fast, make decisions, take action, and move on. And I see this in many organizations I work with today.

As Bunker and Wakefield point out, leaders must:

  • Examine their behaviors and emotions tied to change and transition. This begins the process of operating from a place of authenticity as a leader.
  • Establish and protect trust. Without trust and honesty, authenticity and credibility suffer – undermining otherwise solid change initiatives or management decisions.
  • Find a balance between structural leadership and people leadership. By learning important competencies for leading in times of change and transition, leaders gain a new perspective from which to operate.

Later this week, I’ll post more on key leadership competencies critical for transition. What are some of your successful practices in leading through transition?

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within them.”

–Bob Nelson

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