Think about everything that’s changed in your workplace over the last 12 months. New faces. Fluctuating targets. Evolving processes and strategies. Maybe even the scope of your role and the skills you’re expected to bring to the table. Little wonder thought leaders have declared ‘change’ the new ‘business as usual’.
Part of being a leader is dealing with organisational change - steering the troops through uncertain times and uncharted territory. But how do you cope with change when you’re not the boss, and the decisions affecting the future of how you work are being made behind closed doors?
1. Examine the change and your fears around it
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
H. P. Lovecraft, American author
When the unexpected happens, it’s perfectly normal to feel fear. Where many people go wrong is in failing to acknowledge that they’re fearful or anxious, but this is the first step in being able to manage the process.
Take some time out to consider your thoughts and feelings about what’s going on around you. Write down everything that occurs to you about the change and your reaction to it – your immediate thoughts, any physical reactions you may have noticed, and the feelings that have been stirred up within you.
The point of this exercise is not to find solutions for overcoming the fear, but to simply acknowledge that the fear exists and that it’s having an impact on you right now.
2. The power of curiosity
“The important things is not to stop questioning.”
When change occurs, fear can often send you into a tailspin. You might end up focussing all of your thoughts inwards, playing out endless ‘what if’ scenarios based on your deepest fears about what might or might not happen next.
The best antidote to catastrophising is to cultivate an enquiring mind. Play a mental game with yourself whereby you’re a third party, unaffected by the change, tasked with finding out as much as you possibly can about the situation.
Ask questions, talk to others, notice how your feelings about the situation fluctuate as you gather more data. The knowledge you acquire through this process can help alleviate your anxieties or better inform how you’ll navigate the path ahead.
There are many more, scientifically-backed benefits to taking a curious approach: individuals who are more naturally inquisitive tend to be healthier, more creative and resourceful, as well as more likely to be perceived as future leadership material.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
“Any gaps in communication get immediately filled by rumors.”
Michael Kerr, President of Humour At Work
You’ve worked hard to build up your network of trusted advisors – now is the time to draw on the strength of its support. Leaders tasked with steering organisations through upheaval and turbulence are encouraged to remain open and transparent, calling on as many opinions and ideas as possible.
The same is true of those throughout the organisation. Share your fears, doubt and concerns with your closest allies, keep channels of communication open with other affected parties within your workplace, and reach out to anyone in your network who has been through something similar and can offer comfort, guidance or knowledge.
4. Draw on your personal strengths
If you’ve done a SWOT analysis in the past, dig it out now and pay particular attention to your skillset. What talents can you draw on as you ride out the disruption?
Reflect on past incidences of workplace or personal life change that you’ve experienced, focussing on what you learned about your ability to cope with the unexpected or the unwanted.
If you haven’t always dealt particularly well with change, ask yourself what you learned about yourself through the process, and what you can do differently in these current circumstances to achieve a better outcome.
5. Be kind to yourself
It’s essential, when you’re navigating turbulence, that you take care of your wellbeing. If you know that the coming weeks or months are going to be unsettling, make a plan for how you’re going to eat, sleep and live well throughout.
That might mean preparing meals or a grocery shop in advance, scheduling in fun times with friends or cancelling any non-priority engagements which would have been a drain on your energy or resources.
Consider beginning or ramping up your meditation or mindfulness practice, even if that means simply setting aside 10 minutes at the start of each day to sit quietly with yourself and notice what’s going on in your body and mind.
6. Keep calm and carry on
It’s the clichéd motivator that spawned countless mugs and tea towels, but there’s a lot to be said for simply buckling down and getting on with it – ‘it’ being all the things that haven’t changed.
Even in the midst of enormous workplace upheaval, there’s usually an awful lot that continues as usual. Targets may still need to be met, documents and reports filed, client emails exchanged, invoices paid, meetings held.
Spending some time making a list of all that remains unchanged in your world is both an exercise in gaining deeper perspective and the mark of a resilient leader in the making who knows that falling apart simply isn’t an option. By remaining on task, you’ll increase your value to your organisation and those around you.
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