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Episode 3

Six Strategies for Mastering Change and Building Resilience

Gracious & Strong Podcast with Celia Swanson

The ability to bounce back from setbacks has often been described as the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people.

The following is a transcription of a podcast and may contain grammatical errors.

Celia Swanson: Hi everyone. I’m Celia Swanson, and I want to welcome you to today’s Gracious and Strong podcast, where you can discover the authentic and resilient leader inside of you. 

Hello listeners, and welcome back to the Gracious and Strong podcast. This episode’s topic will be dedicated to mastering change. This is the number one requested topic I’m asked to speak about. And, of course, it’s top of mind for all of us as we’ve been navigating the COVID-19 global pandemic, but as I see it right now, we’re getting ready to return to the workplace over the next several months. And our ability to master change will be a critical competency for us to hone and develop and our ability to make sense of the different options and choices, and be prepared to make decisions that reflect our ability to return to work at our very best will be critical. 

We’ve been inundated over the last 16 to 18 months with change that was just imposed upon us: how to remain safe, isolating ourselves from family and friends, forced to adopt technology that would allow us to still have our children go to school and allow us to remain working from remote locations, but they all have been forced upon us. And I can tell you adopting new technology solutions has not been an easy adoption for me to make, how about you? But I see the change table turning, and it’s turning from what was required of us to how do I choose to re-engage and the implications of the choices that I’m about to make. We are facing choices about getting the COVID-19 vaccination or how we will we’re turned to the workplace and more broadly how we will re-engage with large groups of people and our families. Making choices that best fit our personal values and beliefs will dominate our focus in the immediate future. Are you ready for that shift? I know emotionally, we are already to put COVID-19 and the isolation it brought behind us. There are six steps for mastering change that I want to dive into today and give you some context about each one of those steps. And then we’re going to talk about resiliency because one of the most critical skills you can bring to your workplace, to your team, to your family, is how to be a resilient leader. 

So let’s start with the first six steps for mastering change. They are number one, embrace the emotion. Number two, get your bearings. Number three, discover your options. Number four, make your decisions. Number five, show up every day with purpose and a positive attitude and number six, be focused on achieving a win-win. So let’s unpack each of those just a little bit more. Let’s start with embrace the emotion. You know, change is like loss and it will be emotional. The key here is to embrace the emotions and allow yourselves to address them in the moment. Now, the critical point here is to be certain that you use professionalism and you don’t go overboard and embracing emotions, but if you do not embrace emotions at the moment, they’ll just get hidden. They’ll be buried inside of us. And what happens then is they’ll show up in different ways and different behaviors, but they have to be dealt with. So embrace the emotion, that will allow you to address it and then be able to move forward. 

Number two, get your bearings. You know, what do I mean by that? What I mean is ask and understand what you do have control over and what you do not. It’s easy to think that everything is just being demanded of you or forced upon your life, but you’re still in the driver’s seat. You’re in the driver’s seat because you have the choice in how you show up and how you’re going to handle yourself in the middle of a difficult situation. And you’re still in control of helping others understand the expectations of navigating change and how to move forward, whether that’s your team or your family.

Number three, discover your options. This is all about asking questions and getting as much information as you possibly can about the current state and the future state. Being proactive and seeking the possibilities of what can be, while not getting trapped in the emotion or feeling like you can’t move forward in the current situation. What’s happened in my life over many years is that embracing change allowed me to make positive right turns in my life or in my career and discovering what those positive right turns might be is what you need to hone in on step three.

Step four, make your decision. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve coached leaders who have just become frozen in the situation. They’ve gotten the facts, they dealt with the emotion, they’ve got their bearings, but then they’re afraid to make a decision and give it a try. Don’t get trapped in just accepting the status quo. I challenge you to be sure that you envision yourself working in a new environment, working in a new workplace environment, working in contributing at your very best. 

Number five, show up with purpose. What this first requires of you is getting out of a victim mentality as quickly as possible. And then taking high aim with your character intact. Ask yourself a really critical question, which is, what will it take to become a valued asset in this new situation? How do I take this situation and still allow me to make my dreams come true? 

Number six is achieve a win-win solution. You see the speed at which you adopt and achieve a positive win-win solution is really, in my mind, the secret sauce for you, your family, and the team that you lead. If they’re in the throes of change, they’re not always going to be able to see the positive outcome on the other side. So, if you deploy these techniques of accept the emotion, ask questions, show up in a way that portrays your personal character and be the kind of person others want to be surrounded with, this will allow you to take control of the outcomes and the situation. Facing into the global pandemic has highlighted what I’ll call our aversion to uncertainty. But even in the most uncertain times, there’s a way to show up and regain a sense of control that allows you to make the most out of any situation you may face. As you’re facing these difficult situations, you want to be the kind of person that finds solutions and makes good decisions in the midst of uncertainty. I suggest that you give these six steps a try in mastering change. By purposefully applying these steps, you will be able to regain a sense of control and actually build confidence when facing uncertainty. As people describe you as a leader and they monitor the way you’ve navigated through change. That will be the reputation that you build and the followership that you will have from individuals who see you navigate so successfully. 

So let’s now turn our focus to resiliency because in today’s world surprises are the new normal and resilience is the new skill. Korn Ferry is a leadership consulting organization that has developed great depth in research and development for critical leadership competencies. Each year at Walmart, we would select the top six critical leadership competencies that we needed to measure and develop in our leaders across the organization, and resilience wasn’t even on the list just a few years ago, like 10 years ago, but now it is the new skill. It is the most critical skill, one of the most critical skills, for leaders to be able to demonstrate and model. So I’m going to start with the Korn Ferry definition of resilience, and that is rebounding from setbacks and adversity when facing difficult situations. What’s interesting based upon their research is that there are behavioral anchors that you can see demonstrated in a person’s leadership style and the way they approach change that can tell you if they have high resilience or low resilience. Those behavior anchors of success as a resilient leader are four critical behaviors. First, the ability to stay focused and composed in a stressful situation. Second is maintain a positive attitude and forward-thinking approach, despite all the obstacles and difficulties that are placed in your way. Third is to take constructive action to navigate great difficulties. And, fourth is to be viewed as a source of confidence during high-stress situations. When I learned about those four behavioral anchors for measuring strong resilience, I started to hold those up to how I was behaving in stressful situations. And what I found is that the third behavioral anchor of taking constructive action to navigate the difficulties and obstacles was not one I jumped to very quickly, but when I was able to see that jumping in to offer ideas and solutions that allowed you to move forward in and taking action to be constructive in navigating to a place of success was one of the foremost critical behaviors of resilient leaders, I gave it a try. And what I learned is that jumping in with ideas and creating a vision for what success looked like as you come through a change or a setback was really an important component of having others have confidence in you, have confidence in the vision you were creating, and wanting to be a part of the vision and your team as you move forward. 

In addition to the resilient leader behaviors, I also learned that there are three core characteristics of resilient leaders. The first is a staunch acceptance of reality. This ability to be able to see the reality of the situation in front of you and not sugar coat it, but also not make it more negative than it really is. Second, a deep belief that life is meaningful. How many of us want to work in an environment where the work that we do has such strong meaning and purpose? I think all of us do; all of us aspire to work for a leader and in an environment where we can make a difference in the world. And the third is an uncanny ability to improvise. And what do I mean by improvise? I mean, an uncanny ability to take pieces and parts of what they see in the future and cobble those together in a way that creates a compelling vision that you want to be a part of. This ability to improvise and innovate and use what you’ve learned while navigating change to apply it in an environment where people can bring their best to work every day is really a critical component. In fact, the best leaders possess all three of those characteristics. 

You see, discovering the resilient leader in you is what drives me as a leadership coach. I think in all of us, there is a capability and a desire to be able to build an environment where you can excel, where your team can excel, and where the mission of what you are accomplishing has true value and purpose. And discovering resiliency, this new skill for leaders, is my mission, my passion, what all of the content that I offer on my website in my content hub is designed to help you discover. If you and your team are facing important change initiatives or wrestling with how do we make the best decisions as we come back to work or the work environment that we create, or the meaningful work that we need to do together, I encourage you to go to my website on the content hub and look at and utilize the resources that I make available there. It will bring me great joy if my content hub would be a resource for you and your team as you develop and hone your resiliency skills. 

Let me close with a story. I was groomed from an early age to welcome change and to learn how to thrive in a changing environment. My family moved frequently across the country. It seemed every five years my father was starting a new job, and that meant we had to pack up the family and move across the country. The benefit of that situation is I had to learn how to adapt to a new community, how to adapt to a new school, and how to make new friends. When I joined Walmart and the culture taught us that the only constant at Walmart was change, I was able to thrive and I was able to fit right in, in that environment. David Glass, who was CEO of Walmart, Inc at the time would also constantly reinforce that the greatest enemy to growth was complacency. He would constantly challenge us as to whether we were feeling complacent or had we allowed our teams and our business function to become complacent? Sometimes he would even declare that we as an organization had become complacent. And you had to defend yourself by citing the barest innovations and challenging the status quo that you were championing in your organization. I’ll never forget two days that I had to take some pretty tough decisions to David Glass. And one of those was the day that I had a new business proposition for how Sam’s Club would improve their business penetration with business members in the office supply category. We had a dark Club that was not currently an operating retail function. We had a pilot market that was ripe for learning. We developed a pilot program that we wanted to launch that included an office supply catalog, a sales force, and the ability to deliver office supplies directly from our depot to a member’s place of business. David Glass was very encouraging and gave us permission to go ahead and pilot this program. We gave it everything we could, but within 18 months, it was very clear that the sales were not being generated by our business members to help cover the costs of this pretty expensive business proposition. And so the second hardest day of my life was taking the decision to close down Sam’s Club Plus to David Glass. I was prepared for him to challenge me, with had we tried all of these different techniques and approaches to building the sales base? And I really dreaded the day that I would have to tell him that we failed and that it wasn’t going to be a viable business proposition. But, what I instead heard from David Glass was acceptance and praise and even recognition for no longer prolonging a business environment that was costly and not going to be successful. In fact, he reinforced that making this decision was very courageous and timely. He, in fact, was very supportive of closing down that business pilot, taking the learnings from the pilot and reapplying them in a different way to our business members. I was really shocked. I was completely prepared for a very different scenario, but what I learned is that there’s real courage in making the call on business decisions that are not working in a courageous, thoughtful, caring, and quick timeframe. 

You see, when I was preparing and making that decision for closing down the Sam’s Club Plus operation, I used those six steps for mastering change. I used the steps of embracing emotion, of getting my bearings, understanding what was going to be possible and what was not going to be possible. I looked at a variety of different options. I made a decision, and it was a courageous and appropriate decision to make, but it had implications on the people and on the business environment that we were trying to create in a certain community. But then I showed up with purpose and conviction that the same business challenge of growing our office supply category was still important to us as an organization, but there was a different win-win approach that we could take. 

How often are you creating that kind of environment for yourself or the people on your team? How often are you able to really evaluate a situation and say, this just isn’t working, but there’s gotta be an approach that does. And then working through the six steps of mastering change to create a solution that is meaningful and purposeful in how you proceed forward. As I close out this episode, I want to challenge you with thinking about how do you want to be described. Do you want to be described as a person who resists change and drags down a team or creates more obstacles than there really are to navigate in front of you? Or do you want to be described as a person who is both focused, composed, able to remain positive and forward-thinking, able to take constructive steps forward and be a source of confidence during high stress situations? It is your choice. You can be the person that faces into adversity and finds a path forward for themselves, their family, and their team. These are skills that you can practice and hone that will allow you to be described as a leader that others want to follow, as a leader that can rally an organization, a team, or a family to achieve its full purpose and mission in life. 

I hope you’ll put these techniques to practice over the next several weeks. I would love to hear from you about your successes and failures at putting the six steps for mastering change and developing yourself as a resilient leader in practice. 

Please send me a note. If you like what you’ve heard and please share your stories with your successes or failures going forward. I look forward to talking with you soon.

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