Change can paralyze or catalyze; the difference lies in leadership. Choice-driven change fuels us, while imposed change threatens to derails us – understanding this distinction is essential for effective leadership.

We thrive on change – when it’s a choice. It’s exhilarating, inviting creativity and willingness to embrace new experiences. We relish the new; the exotic dish, the journey to an unexplored destination, the plot twist in a movie. We willingly accept the discomfort that comes with changing jobs. When we opt for change, we find it rewarding.

But what happens when change is imposed upon us? Our brains resist uncertainty, and this resistance drains the energy needed for performance. When change looms and its implications are unclear, we instinctively default to fear. And fear is a mindset saboteur. It triggers our survival instinct, effectively disconnecting the part of the brain that is responsible for reasoning and cognitive processing and seeing things in perspective.

Most change-management attempts fail precisely because of this. Corporations often excel at detailing the what, the how, and the when of change. But they overlook the human psychology at play. The real work isn’t just to inform – it’s to ensure that organizational change benefits everyone involved. The key to success lies in the approach and perspective.

Early in my career, I was assigned the task of terminating 75 employees due to funding cuts, just a month into a new role. And in a conflict-ridden country where many of these employees were the sole bread-winners for their families, I was not the flavor of the month. But we tackled it head-on. We chose to invest in these employees, training them in self-leadership and self-empowerment, and equipping them to become micro-entrepreneurs running each of the projects they were otherwise paid for. As a result, when funding stopped, more projects had been initiated than before the process started.

Employees don’t resist change when there is transparency, a clearly defined path, and a genuine investment in their success under the new conditions. The missing piece of the puzzle is to make change additive- to truly understand and address employee concerns, and to equip them for what lies ahead.

Looking to the future, the pace of change will only accelerate. And the smartest investment? Cultivating a workforce that is change-resilient, arming them with the necessary skills and mindset before change is happens. This will be the dividing line between an organizational culture of hopeful curiosity and one of fearful disengagement.

Which one do you lead?

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