Compassion: A Critical Skill For Change Leadership

Compassion – understanding what’s happening for people

It’s not that we people don’t like change, we just don’t like to feel out of control. When we are stressed we are in a state of feeling a loss of control. Stress results are well documented and can be evident in both personal well being and reduced on the job performance. How can leaders help? By compassionately focusing on the person in front of them and asking: What do you need?

People Need to Embrace the Context to Embrace the Change

Leaders have usually been mulling over, testing and weighing change ideas for a while before sharing with others. This means leaders will forget that they are farther along the change curve then those just learning about an upcoming change. And this can result in frustration for everyone. The simple approach is, well, simple. Make sure there is a well articulated context. No, a really well articulated context. The  global view – the industry view – the local view. Once you get into the personal impacts, it’s time to bring in the supervisors for 1:1 time. But the organizational context for the organizational change belongs to the leaders. It has to be compelling and based in reality – not vanity. Don’t impose change – don’t upset people –  if you don’t have a compelling reason.

People Need More to move from “fight/flight” to “clear thinking”

One of the best ways to help someone in stress is to sit with them and listen. Don’t tell them to “calm down” or “take a breath” but you be calm and take a breath. Slow down, don’t be task oriented. Unless it is literally a fire you are putting out – invest the time on the front end to move from fear to forward movement. Ask open ended and curious questions. What are they feeling?  If it’s a negative response, ask how they would like to feel, what would that be like. Then make these visions into outcome measures (i.e. more confident in their job, more capable in a new skill, learning success). This is best done by a skilled direct supervisor – not HR, not the CEO. If your managers aren’t up to the task, get them a coach. Keep connecting compassionately, it’s not once and done.

Use Change Management Science

Like Project Management for the technical details, Change management is a recognized profession helping organizations manage the people side of change. There is no reason for any organization to wing it from risk assessment to lessons learned, use the science or hire an expert to assist. Trusting the process means staying with your people as they move from awareness to interest to desire to action – and embracing the opportunity to become a more mature organization in the journey.

Elizabeth Keurvorst is an executive coach and facilitator specializing in change. Visit her website: