Leadership: Navigating Organizational Change
For the Sterile Processing community, change is a constant. Every day can be filled with changes that can often be difficult to predict: a change of a scheduled surgery or an unexpected visit from the Department of Health. As the world we live in and work in changes every day, organizational change is inevitable. Within an organization change can be either difficult and awkward or smooth, depending on the time taken to prepare for it. Organization-wide change can be particularly difficult because a leader must intricately and successfully navigate a large group of people through what may seem like a very narrow door. How can leaders successfully bring their organizations through the battlefield of change without a high number of casualties? Fortunately, leaders have some important tools at their disposal.
Too often, when leaders decide to implement change, they do not include those being asked to change to be a part of the process. Resistance is inevitable when they feel change is being done “to them” and not “through them”. “People leading the change think that announcing the change is the same as implementing it” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 217).
Leaders must have confidence in their stakeholders to be vital contributors to the change process at all levels of the organization. When they do, trust is built among the ranks. That trust makes stakeholders feel empowered, and that they have a voice within the organization. Conversely, when they do not feel heard, they feel as though they have lost or given over control during the change process. Resistance to change becomes very real. Fixing that requires some additional tools.
Communication is not one-size-fits-all. It has to be healthy, effective communication. Leaders may think they are communicating, only to find that their people still do not understand what needs to change. Interference between sender and receiver in the form of cultural differences, language barriers and personalities can prevent effective transmission of the information.
When implementing change, leaders have a dual role of having to be both directive and supportive throughout the change process. Stakeholders are sometimes fearful to ask questions about the elements of the change for fear of a negative perception by leaders and others. Leaders must create an atmosphere and culture that encourages asking questions without fear of repercussions during any change initiative. And they need to be clear about what the change will mean to everyone involved. When stakeholders are uncertain about how change will affect them personally, they begin to make up their own reasons why change is happening, whether true or not. “In the absence of honest, passionate, and empathetic communication, people create their own information about the change, and rumors begin to serve as facts” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 232).
Another tool leaders need to implement effective change is emotional intelligence (EI). EI is a key quality found in successful leaders. Emotional Intelligence has four parts:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
With EI, leaders understand their own moods and emotions (self-awareness) and manage those emotions to work with others (self-management). By doing this, managers improve the way they interact with people (social awareness), and develop successful relationships. Practicing that increases EI in themselves and in those they manage (Maetrix, 2004).
EI becomes extremely important during organizational change. Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of those they are leading; and will not place unreasonable expectations on followers. Emotionally intelligent leaders will always set-up their followers for success.
Leading from the Heart
Being able to lead from the heart is another vital part of organizational change. Blanchard (2010) states that effective leadership during a change initiative is not self-serving. Leaders who lead from the heart are authentic in their approach. “Leaders who are big-hearted are open, share themselves fully with us, and are genuinely interested in us. They ignite our souls to achieve greatness far beyond what we imagined possible” (George, 2005, p. 3). This builds trust between leaders and workers. When trust is built, morale and productivity increase. “The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is motivated by a change in heart” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 263). When stakeholders know that leaders sincerely care and that we have their best interest at heart, resistance to change can be significantly reduced.
Unfortunately, we all fear change to some degree. Many people fear change because they see it as happening to them and not with them. When change happens like that to a person or group of people, the loss of control brings fear; fear of the unknown or even the known. When change is organization-wide, fear and dread are exponentially increased. When done correctly, however, organizational change is a collaborative effort; not done to the stakeholders, but with the stakeholders. Leadership must create an inspiring and empowering atmosphere that demonstrates they are committed to the change process. They paint a picture of the future to the stakeholders that gets them excited about what is on the horizon for the organization. Without that, stakeholders cannot see the positive direction the leadership is taking the organization, only the disruption. They may become complacent and hopeless about their future. When change leadership paints a clearly articulated picture of success and how it relates personally to all the stakeholders, faith for the future of the organization is ignited. One successful change increases everyone’s acceptance and competence for future change. They will need it. Change is here to stay.
Blanchard, K. (2010). Leading at a higher level. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
George, B. (2005). Authentic Leaders. Leadership Excellence, 22(10), 3-4.
Maetrix emotional intelligence test (2004). Retrieved from http://www.maetrix.com.au/meit/eitest.html
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