Immersed in Change

January 6th, 2014

My life has been immersed in change. I know, I know…I’m not alone. But jump in with me in reflecting on these moments, and let’s see if any leadership lessons on leading change emerge.

First work.

I was chatting with a new student about last fall semester and it suddenly occurred to me, last fall was a lifetime ago. We, Luther Seminary, are living through a series of one year anniversaries—dates on the calendar which remind us our course for the future has changed. In October our board had their regular fall meeting – and we remembered it was last October when the board discovered some financial concerns. In early November we quietly moved past the one year anniversary of the resignation of our CFO. And coming at the end of this semester will be the one year anniversary of our president’s resignation. I remember how tired I was in January and into the spring, but I had forgotten now much territory we had covered since December 2012. Talking with students who were not around last fall was a bit surreal. I remember living that life, but it seems like a distant memory now.

Lesson: Huge, disruptive change disorients people and plays with their sense of time.

Leadership Questions: After the “crisis” has passed, how do organizations regain a healthy sense of time? And how important is it to help people gain some perspective? What is the role of noting one year anniversary’s of significant moments in an organization’s history?

Second church.

On Reformation Sunday our congregation concluded a year of celebrating our 50th anniversary. The past twelve months we had noted different memories of the past, different moments in history which marked key parts of our congregation’s story. And it all came to a head with a grand worship experience and some gatherings on the last Sunday in October. Facing my 50th birthday this summer, I realize the importance of reflecting on the past and taking account of the twists and turns of one’s story—personally and collectively. During the celebration I had the chance to share stories and catch up with many people, some I had not seen in awhile and others who I see but haven’t shared this deeply in some time. As the weekend ended and we started the next 50 years, two things crossed my mind: we don’t do this often enough and it matters what story we tell. As much as I treasured many aspects of the celebration, I also noted the key parts of the story which were not told – parts that were important to my almost 30 year experience there.

Lesson: What story we tell matters.

Leadership Questions: Who decides which story of an organization will be told? How do we tell the breadth and the depth? How do we share the joys and the challenges? How do we tell the story of the “old timers” and the “newbies”?

Third home.

Our family has two seniors, one a senior in high school and the other a senior in college. And being a senior is a year full of change. There are celebratory endings—or series of “lasts”—and imagination about the future. There are moments which force you to appreciate the current chapter and moments which force decision about a future direction. There are anxieties and honoring. There’s community to journey with and there are moments when “no one understands.” Yes, all of those things are true, and often they are paradoxical. Being a senior has its good days and stressful days. And living with, trying to parent and support, two seniors has its own ups and downs. Yes I’ve been there, but this isn’t my journey. Yes I have experiences, but I can’t make other people’s decisions. Yes I know some things, but it’s not wise to let learning moment go unattended. Being the parent means I have to roll with the changes, but not get too drawn into them.

Lesson: Leading people in change requires staying relationally connected while also not doing other people’s work.

Leadership Questions: How are we balancing being relationally connected and only doing the work that is ours? Do we know our role? Do we know what the work is and who’s it is?

As I continue to live in the midst of change, I’m noticing I need moments to rest and to reflect. But I also need moments to grieve and let go. I’m trying to find a healthy way through all three of these scenarios. I know you have your own set of scenarios, and I hope these lessons and questions might help you discover both an accompaniment partner and some fruitful lessons for the journey.

Originally posted on Intersections by Terri Elton, 11/18/2013. Used with permission.

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