Change vs. Transition: Practice makes Leadership

by vernsanders on January 21, 2011

This is the third (and last) post in a series that started here, and continued here. The departure lounge was a quote by William Bridges published with commentary in a blog by Rhett Smith. The essence of the quote (bold is added by Rhett), all of which you can find here, is this:

Change is situational. Transition on the other hand, is psychological (bold added for emphasis). It is not (events), but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t ‘take.’ Whatever word we use, our society talks a lot about change; but it seldom deals with transition. Unfortunately for us, it is the transition that blind-sides us and is often the source of our troubles.

Then Rhett, in commenting on this quote says:

Change can come easy, but transitioning will take work. So don’t commit to just changing this year, but commit to transitioning.

This time I want to talk specifically about that “blind side” part and how leadership can prepare those whom they lead for just such an eventuality. The parallel I am using is that airline pilots are paid large sums of money for the transitions: taking off and landing. They are not paid for the routine of flying.

How does a leader prepare those that they lead for the high stress moments in any leadership role? Practice, Practice, Practice.

I have been fortunate enough to watch high profile leaders in practice. In my opinion that’s where all the work should be done. Some of what follows depends upon the talent quotient of those who are being led (that’s another topic entirely) but here’s what all these people had in common during their practice/rehearsals:

  • they had spent time thinking about where things might go wrong
  • they had developed a plan for how to fix all those eventualities
  • they rehearsed the plan with their group

It’s kind of like why there was a fire drill in your elementary school every month, or a safety demonstration on every flight you’ve ever taken. When the response to a high stress situation has been practiced, it is easy to follow a routine. People know what to do because they have done it before.

So the trick, as a leader, is to figure out where the high stress/high risk potential is, and prepare everyone to overcome any eventuality.

Here are some specific examples:

  • in a piece of music, always spend intentional time on the end (leave them with a good taste in their mouths), the beginning (start with a good impression), and critical transitions (there’s that word…but in this case I mean key changes, meter changes, a section of a cappella singing in the middle of an accompanied anthem…things like that)
  • in an ongoing rehearsal situation, spend intentional time on fundamentals (playing or singing in tune, listening, tone, rhythm, etc.) during the course of any piece for which displaying mastery of that fundamental is critical to the success of the piece
  • for a festival event (Christmas, Easter, concert, tour…), spend intentional time on the things that are different from the ordinary (like what it means to have instrumentalists, or singers added to your group), and those things that by their nature will cause stress (how to manage extra rehearsals, family obligations, adrenaline…)
  • in a new working relationship, always spend intentional time asking questions and LISTENING to the answers about “what if” details (if someone complains to me about you, what would you like me to do? if I need a quick answer to a question, do you want me to communicate with you in person, by phone, email, or text? what can’t I make a decision about without your input?)

OK. That’s enough from me right now. I’d really like to know what you think, and I do try to engage in conversation in my comments if appropriate. Please leave a comment below.

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