Have you ever had your plans turned upside down? And then been told that the new challenge was not going to be easily resolved and was going to take time?

Most leaders have faced an unexpected challenge with no easy solutions. It might be a change in the direction of the company requiring a shift in resources and people. It might be an initiative that is shut down. It may be a new manager with a different style and philosophy than you are used to. These kinds of changes require adjustments to how you think, how you operate and what you focus on going forward.

Many times, these situations start with disbelief: “I can’t believe this is happening”. 

That disbelief can keep you frozen for a time. Sometimes we need time to regroup and adjust to the new reality. Often it can be painful and fill up a good portion of your thoughts. Your mind can feel like it is going in circles, or it keeps repeating the same ideas over and over again.

The next stage is: “Why did this happen?”

You start asking questions and considering possible causes. You want to know why. Understanding the why can be helpful and it can also be a trap. You may be looking for some person or some situation to blame. You may entertain wild ideas about the reasons for what happened. It is important at this stage to have a constructive mindset when looking at causes. How can this information help you to move forward or solve the problem? Like the stages of grief, you may at this point feel anger or fear about the change in circumstances.

The next stage can be adjusting and accepting the new reality. In this stage, it is like living in a new home. Your old routines no longer work. You need to find new ways of operating and moving in your new place. The glasses and silverware may be in different spots than before. You might have this “AHA” moment of clarity when you realize that change has happened and like a kaleidoscope a new picture has dropped into place. Adjusting and accepting don’t always happen at the same time. However, accepting the new reality can make the adjusting happen more quickly.

The next stage might be reflection: “What am I learning from this experience?” “What do I need to let go of?” “What is the gift in this experience?”

When going through unexpected change, talk about what you are going through with others. They may be a good sounding board for processing the situation and provide perspectives you haven’t thought of. They may have ideas that can help you navigate the change. Just sharing your challenge can help ease the burden and prevent you from feeling alone. You are less likely to become discouraged by the circumstances.

Keep in mind that in addition to your own reaction to the change, your team will also be reacting and going through these stages. It is an empathetic leader, who can lead with both Head and Heart, that realizes they need to understand and connect with their own and their team’s emotions as well as lead with your head (rational mind) on how to manage the change. A quote from Julius Caesar speaks eloquently about unexpected change, “No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.”

Please share in the comments below your experiences with unexpected change and how you navigated it.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.