by Dr. Elisebeth VanderWeil
Many people who are interested in and practicing leadership get really excited about change. Some have defined leadership as initiating and guiding change. "Change is constant" has become a mantra in many organizations and leadership conversations. How a leader cares for and supports people and processes through change is often seen as definitive of leadership ability.
Let's consider for a moment what a leader or organization would look like if change was a defining characteristic:
• procedures and policies would always be out of date; indeed they may never be completed
• creativity and innovation would be high, but products and outcomes would be unrealized
• career and group development would be trapped in the realms of "storming" and "forming"
• trust and collaboration would be "thin"
• nerves would be as frayed as those of the proverbial long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs
Change is only one iteration on the developmental path of growth and evolution. As needed and necessary are plateaus of rest, reflection and assessment. These times between changes where things happen as expected are vital in their ordinariness. These times of relaxation allow us to enjoy our accomplishments, deepen our connections and relationships that made those accomplishments possible, and reenergize us after great effort.
During plateaus between changes – either within individuals or organizations – one can reflect on the changes that have taken place, where they have brought us, and what we think and feel about the whole thing. Our reflections can bring us to assessing how successful the change has been and discern a path for the future. When we stop to look around, our vision becomes wider, more varied, and more rich.
Leadership in a time of what could be perceived as "maintaining the status quo" demands a very different set of skills and awarenesses than those needed for beginning and guiding change initiatives. Leaders and organizations cannot depend on the "high" provided by creative realizations, newness, rearrangements, and "shaking things up". A leader "in times of same" needs to support the unexciting middle work of solidifying, establishing, smoothing, refining, examining, and sustaining people, processes, procedures, and purpose. These actions that don't move provide nurturance and build energy for when movement is needed.
It is during quiet plateaus that opportunities for sustainable development, innovation, and growth are realized. It is from these plateaus that leaders can both see and be seen by followers more clearly than ever. The times of rich of stillness are when a leader can truly shine.
What do you do – and not do – to support and determine the next best, elegant step?
VanderWeil works as the Director of Organizational Leadership at Mountain State University and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. Her seemingly disconnected yet thematic work experience has provided her with the skills and experience to remain curious, flexible, decisive, and knowledgeable in many realms.