Leading an Organization Through Change

“Change” has become a very familiar word in the fire service. If you are a firefighter in America, you might be able to say that one or more of the following statements relate to your organization:
• Our staffing level is the lowest it has ever been.
• Our operating budget is shrinking yearly.
• They are not replacing retired Fire fighters.
• Our department is looking into the option or regionalization (shared services).
• The only way we can get the equipment we need is through grant funding.
• We are constantly being asked to do more with less.
• Our new management staff is leading us in the wrong direction.
• Newly appointed politicians are not supportive of your organization.

If you are leading a team, change can be frightening. You may be wondering if you are making the right decisions. Perhaps you are spending so much time weighing your options that you aren’t making any decisions at all. If either applies to you, the question you will have to ask is, “Am I getting the right people involved in the process?”

Don’t make the mistake of doing it all yourself. You are surrounded by people who should share the same common organizational success goals that you do.

Maybe you are not the head of the organization, but the head of a team within the organization. This doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait for change to occur. Instead, show others that your team is willing to show initiative. Support your organization and engage the upper management team now in developing the necessary skills and perspective to lead your team through challenging times.

Whatever role you are playing, your attitude towards change can tremendously influence the outcome. If your department is like most, it’s full of smart, talented people with flaws in their leadership skills. We all have flaws because the majority of people have never had the proper leadership training. Even those who have may not have lead groups through challenging times like the ones listed above.

What do you do when change, and especially “tough” change is inevitable? Since this is happening more frequently than ever before, it’s important to define your role as a leader if you expect to survive and thrive in today’s world. Change will require you a leader to deal with various people in and out of the organization in different ways. Because of this, there are several different roles you must play to successfully lead thorough change.

9 roles you must play to successfully lead your team through inevitable change.

Self-Educator – Understand the new mission

Take time to learn the reason for this new change. Without a solid knowledge base of the situation, you will never be able to effective lead others. You may not ever have done much with mission in the past. But now is the time to understand and get engaged with the direction of your organization.

Advocate – Talk the talk.

Express to the team what you love about change. Change can create new life, energy and momentum on a team. Change isn’t always easy, but it may be necessary. Let others know change, when handled correctly, can be a good thing.

Role model – Walk the walk.

Be an example. Demonstrate the way you want others to respond to the concept of change. If you are walking around saying, “This is going to be a bad thing.” Your team will do the same and morale will plummet at record speed. People will need to see that you can flow with whatever comes your way and that you have the foundational skills, knowledge and perspective to overcome unexpected obstacles.

Decision maker – Make the call.

Gather information and make decisions. Procrastination and indecision will cause others to doubt your ability and commitment to change. If the leader doesn’t have a plan, the others will feel like the mission is destined for failure.

Communicator – Talk and listen.

Don’t go from secret meeting to secret meeting without providing any information to your team members. They will lose complete faith in you – I guarantee it. When you leave people in the dark and don’t share information or listen to their concerns or suggestions, they will think your plan does not concern their security or wellbeing.

Motivator – Stimulate the team

Be enthusiastic. Let others know that change can represent forward progress for all, but progress only occurs when people step away from their comfort zone. Create a sense of urgency and commitment and encourage the team to pull together now, more than ever before.

Unifier – Pull the team together

Divisiveness is not going to help your company through challenging times – Collaboration will. If your team has to fight a civil war amongst themselves, they will not be able to focus on the task at hand. Some change will not sit well with the team, but if the change is inevitable, your ability to pull everyone together can provide you with a much needed advantage.

Commander – Hold others accountable

Be consistent and fair, but your organizations rules and regulations must be followed, especially during difficult times. Stress levels may elevate and job descriptions may change, but this doesn’t mean people will have the right to avoid their new responsibilities. If one team member free-lances without repercussion, other will follow suit. Your team might have gotten away with some weak performances and finger-pointing in normal times, change requires a shared ownership of the outcomes and a strong commitment by everyone to do whatever it takes.

Counselor – Provide guidance

Temporary emotional un-stability can be a byproduct of difficult change. If you handle the roles listed above the right way, you may avoid the need for this role altogether. Strong leadership is often enough to comfort people who are going through change. On this note, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you are feeling the pressure of change, seek professional help. High stress levels can destroy anyone, regardless of how strong you may think you are.

Along the way, you will discover that one of the main components of dealing with change is managing key relationships. With change comes the potential for devastating misunderstandings. Maintain open communication with all parties, especially those who may be forcing this change upon you. Closing doors will only lead to ineffective communication. When that occurs, you will have lost any advantage you may have had.

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