The Big Myth About Leading Through Change

This year at Inbound 2018 (Hubspot’s big annual digital marketing conference) Dr. Karlyn Borysenko said something fascinating during her breakout session on the psychology of office politics. She essentially exploded a myth that I and my company have been operating with for a long time now and I can’t stop thinking about how I need to handle this epiphany.

She said (paraphrasing): “Everyone always says people fear change. I hate that phrase because it’s not true. People don’t fear change, they fear loss.

mind blown

Such a simple tweak to a common saying, but such an important one. The minute you hear it, you kick yourself because of course that’s the case and yet, if you’re like me you’ve been rattling off the “people fear change” motto like it was holy writ.

Dr. Borysenko’s entire presentation was great, but I took away a few key points:

  1. It doesn’t matter whether someone really is losing something, if they feel like they are losing, they’re going to resist.
  2. It doesn’t matter if you’re right if, in defending your rightness, you become a less effective leader.
  3. The emotions of the people around you do matter and the only way to build effective teams is to practice empathy and seek win-win solutions together.

These principles make a lot of sense but dang, they are hard. After all, you and I are objective reporters of the unvarnished truth. It’s all our dumdum coworkers who can’t see reality, right? If only they’d just listen to us, The People Who Know Best.

Timberlake admonishing  you

In all seriousness, this is a struggle I’m going to… struggle… with in 2019. I’m part of a team whose stature and budget is growing in a company where our internal customer teams have faced staff reductions and budget cuts. Why wouldn’t they see our gain as their loss?

Trying to follow Dr. Borysenko’s advice, here’s some ideas I’m batting around:

  • Sincerely positioning our staff growth as an increase in resources for the rest of the company: “Our new hires are here to do more work for you and make your life easier!”
  • Creating marketing materials that don’t tout our successes but rather our services available to other departments: “Check it out, we finally have the bandwidth to do all these different projects to benefit you!”
  • Proactively solving communication problems other departments don’t even know they have yet: “Say, I noticed it wasn’t easy to find those forms you all use on our intranet so we went ahead and built a little document library for you to make it easier for people to find them!”

What do you think? How have you helped other people feel less of a sense of loss during major changes? What’s worked for your company? Hit me up in the comments and let me know.


Otherwise, just be good to each other out there.


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