4 Secrets to Leading Change Without Crushing People

This is Part 4 of a 5 part blog series designed to answer your questions on leading change. It’s part of Change Week – from December 10-17th.

We’re marking the release of my new book Leading Change Without Losing It with a special, limited time 50% discount for Kindle and iBooks (or here for iBooks Canada). Plus we have some giveways and more (see below). Thank you for helping the book become a bestseller in its first week.

One of the reasons leaders decide to settle for the status quo rather than leading change is because they’ve heard the horror stories of how people get crushed in the process of change.

Change can run like a steam roller over people. We’ve seen it happen in the corporate world and we’ve seen it happen in ministry.

Jon, a young church leader from the UK, frames the issue well in his question on leading change:

How do you bring about change without crushing people along the way? In other words, when people have been doing ‘their’ ministry for many many years, who are very much more senior in years, and have seen fruitfulness in the past but for today it’s not fit for service, but they can’t see that, how do you help them to see that without saying to them, along the lines of, “what you’re doing is rubbish” and therein crippling them.

I don’t know of a single leader who hasn’t been in the jaws of the dilemma Jon is describing. How do you lead change without crushing people?

Believe it or not, you can do it. It begins with a simple premise. Don’t crush people. Crush the problem.

And you do that this way: Attack problems, not people.

When you decide to attack a problem, you make progress. When you decide to attack a person, well…you know how distrastrously that usually ends.

Here are four little know ways to lead change without crushing people by attacking the problem, not the person:

1. Turn to God so you won’t turn on them. Your frustration has to go somewhere. And if you’re not intentional, the person who will bear the brunt of your frustration is the person you’re frustrated with. You know this. You’ve done it with your spouse, your kids and others, and you’ve probably done it within your organization.

Christians have a distinct advantage here. We can turn to God. But to do it, you need to make your prayer life more authentic. King David figured this out. I always admired his reluctance to strike back at his enemies like King Saul. How did he show so much restraint?

Answer: he showed public restraint because he let his frustration out privately, in prayer. Read Psalm 109. Seriously – read it. Hear what it says. It will curl your hair. Get that authentic in your prayer life and your frustration will run its course long before you get to the meeting or the phone call with the person you’re angry with.

2. Separate the person from the problem. It’s tempting in leadership to think that the person is the problem. Don’t. Separate the two. If you make the problem the focus of your attention, you even have a shot at recruiting your ‘opponents’ to help you attack it.  Sometimes, enemies become allies. And even if they don’t, you’ve unleashed your leadership on a problem and allowed people to disagree with dignity.

3. Wait. When it comes to conflict, almost everything gets better overnight. Don’t respond in the moment. Don’t answer that email yet. When someone attacks you publicly, don’t respond. Go home. Pray about it. Sleep on it. Talk to God (and a friend) about it. Wake up the next morning, and handle it then. You’ll respond with far more grace, wisdom and humility. I promise.

4. Take the high road. The high road isn’t the easy road, but it is the best road. It is so difficult but so worth it. The emotions that make you want to respond in kind will leave you feeling good for ten minutes. And they’ll also leave you regretting what you did for ten years. So don’t.  When I’ve been in my most difficult moments leading change, there are days where I just silently repeated “Take the high road, take the high road, take the high road” to myself until I decided to do it. In those moments, I’ve been so glad I did.

Leading change without crushing people is as much about your personal conduct as it is about anything else. The other strategies in Leading Change Without Losing It can lead you throw the how of organizational change. But when it comes to not crushing people, it’s all about the how of you.

Those are some things I’ve learned. What has helped you? What questions remain? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!


For your chance to win a free copy of the book during launch week, tweet about the book, this post or change using the hashtag #changebook. Then, on Monday, December 17th I’ll select three winners who used the #changebook hashtag on twitter:

  1. Two will win a free copy of the book.
  2. One winner will win
    1. Copies of the book for their entire team (up to twelve copies);  and
    2. A one hour video consultation with me to work through your specific change scenario with you.

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1 Comment

  1. Jon on December 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks Carey – helps a lot. Appreciate you taking the time to engage with my question. You’ve made some very key points that I’ll need to bear in mind over the coming years.

    The real difficulty I can perceive is that so often the people needing to change are so attached to the problem they’re creating, not even able to perceive the problem itself. And I suppose that’s where point 3 comes in as well as carefully and very gradually highlighting the problem that presents itself.

    Thanks again!

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