Major Change: Navigating Tumultuous Times

I have been traversing a period of major change, personally and professionally, which is why it has been quite some time since I last posted to The Fourth Question. Significant change in my life occupied all my attention over the last months. In short, I have changed jobs

Time For Change
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and changed cities in the process. After 33 wonderful years as Principal of Mackay Christian College I have taken up the role of Dean of Education, Humanities and Business at Christian Heritage College in Brisbane. While still in Queensland I now live in a city of millions instead of 100 000. Brisbane is about 1,000 km south of Mackay and is the capital of the state of Queensland. A major change!

Reflective questions led to major change

Many questions arose as a result of leading in one place for so long. For a number of years these questions had been running through my mind. Reflective questions such as: How long is too long? When does my staying become negative for the organisation and negative for me? What would I do if I wasn’t the leader of this organisation? And, what would the impact of my leaving be on others, including my family? How do you navigate such major change?

Over the years I had asked critical friends to feel free to speak to me when they thought it was time for me to move on. I never wanted to overstay my time and leave a less than excellent legacy behind as a consequence. In about June of last year (2016) the then Chairman of the board took me aside and told me he thought it was time for major change. The time for me to move on was approaching. He expressed thoughts the organisation might be holding me back. Holding me back from being involved in bigger picture involvements. Involvements in which my skills, experience and knowledge could make a big difference.

Major change was being planned

A lot of thought and prayer followed. Major change was being planned to the operation of the organisation at the board level. The Chairman did not feel I would be able to support these changes. As a result, I would potentially be a blocker to his plans. I had some idea of what major changes he was talking about. He was right – I would not, could not, support the planned changes and the impact I thought they might have on people. Staying would be a decision inviting conflict. There was a high possibility of damage to people and to the organisation I loved so much. I also respected the Chairman, with whom I had served for over thirty years.

Reflective Questions
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Major change, for me, is any change which will impact on a large number of people…

Leaders often have to make difficult decisions, especially when they involve major change. Major change, for me, is any change impacting on a large number of people in an organisation. I know I have faced many such decisions. Decisions with far reaching consequences for people and for the future of the organisation. This was one such major change point.

Deliberately cultivate critical friendships before facing major change

One of the more difficult aspects of this decision making process was working out who I could talk to about things.

Leaders need friends who have faced similar decisions. Friends who can be absolutely trusted and who will be completely straight with them – even at the risk of hurt feelings. Two such people made themselves available to me as I faced major change. One was a friend of over three decades who had faced very similar circumstances some years earlier. Ironically, I had been able to be the trusted friend through the aftermath of major change in his location and direction. The other was an educational and leadership guru, a consultant at large, who had been partnering with me in leading some organisational change.

Being able to speak openly, honestly, to cry and to laugh with both of these precious friends while working through the major change decision was very helpful. It is a blessing to be able to continue to draw on these friendships today. I encourage you to deliberately cultivate friendships such as these. It is too late to do so when you find you really need them.

I was confident I could continue to lead the organisation and face off the challenges of the potentially negative major change I saw being put in place. However, I had been asking myself those difficult reflective questions for some time and they began to sound very loud in my mind.

Sometimes we are called ‘from’ before we are called ‘to’.

I had no other position I wanted. I loved my job and the organisation. One of my great friends told me that sometimes we are called ‘from’ before we are called ‘to’. This really resonated with me. I made the decision, with the support of my wife and family, to resign from the school, not knowing what might lie ahead. In fact, I planned to take a year off work, to write, be published, and renew and refresh. What happened next and how we navigated the major change is food for another blog post.

I believe I have learned much over the last few months. When these lessons are added to the leadership lessons of the last three or four decades they may be of value to you and to your leadership. Hopefully you will continue to come on that journey with me.

I will be drawing on the learning experiences of making the major change in upcoming blog posts. Topics I have already considered writing about include:

  • Leaving well
  • the pain and grief of leaving people and something you put your life into,
  • never bury anything that isn’t dead
  • dealing with a sense of being in ‘liminal’ space – unable to move forward or backwards,
  • being called ‘from’ before being called ‘to’,
  • the emotion of leadership guilt connected to the unintended impact of decisions on those we love,
  • inherited organisational culture
  • loving a new challenge

Sorry for the gap in-between posts – I am back on track again. See you next time.

Takeaways

  • Develop critical friendships before you really need them.
  • Leaders need critical friends when facing major change.
  • Asking reflective questions helps in making difficult decisions.