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leading change, fighting fear

Reprinted below is an article I received via email from SmartBrief on Leadership.

Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners, has served as an adviser to leadership teams at some of the world’s best-known organizations. An edited version of SmartBrief’s conversation with him is below. Read the full interview on SmartBlog on Workforce.

Much of the conventional wisdom about business leadership encourages people to suppress their emotions. Your take on this is a little different. Tell us about that.

Suppressing our emotions is a dangerous game because it’s an illusion. We think the emotion isn’t there anymore, but it’s just gone into hiding. And now, forced to hide, it becomes petulant. If we don’t admit our feelings — at least to ourselves — they will seep out in unproductive, dysfunctional and hurtful ways.

Here’s the trick: Make a distinction between what you’re feeling and how you behave. Know what you’re feeling at all times, but don’t necessarily react. Just feel. Then, once you know what you’re feeling, take a deep breath and make a decision about how to act based on what will be helpful and productive in that particular situation. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you have to act angry. Act in whatever way will be most effective in a particular situation.

A CEO comes to you and says he has realized that it’s going to take a big change to move his organization forward. What should his first step be?

Start to involve other people in thinking about the change.

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. We all make changes constantly with no need for prodding. We get married. Have children. Move. Choose a new item on the dinner menu. The difference between acceptance of change and resistance to it is control. I don’t have a problem making changes that I choose. But you want me to change? Forget it!

The way to make a change happen successfully is to give choices to the people who need to make the change successful. In my book, “Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change,” I shared seven strategies for spreading ownership of a change without losing control over its general direction. For example, instead of making the change perfect — beautiful binders, polished communications, eloquent speeches and e-mails telling people what’s in it for them — make it imperfect. Get it half right. Don’t tell people things, think with them about things. Then facilitate a process in which employees can participate — lead even — the process of transforming their own suggestions into the foundation of the change.

This economic climate has created challenges that many business leaders fear may be insurmountable. What’s your advice for avoiding feeling overwhelmed?

Ask for help. The more scared and insecure we become, the more we tend to shrink into our shells. Unfortunately, many people feel that by reaching out, they’ll expose their weaknesses and that will make them more vulnerable. That’s a mistake. Not reaching out for help only creates more fear and insecurity. Instead, tell others when you need help and ask them to support you. That will lead them to do the same. There’s a reason fish school together. It feels safer to work together. And it is.