You Need to be Two-Faced to Lead Change

Is your glass half empty or half full? We’ve all heard that phrase used to identify optimism and pessimism. Of course, any good consultant knows that dichotomies can be dangerous. There are always shades of grey for good reason.

I was just reading how those with a positive mindset have better health. They are resilient, bouncing back quickly from troubles. This can be mistakenly interpreted as needing to see everything through rose-colored glasses. Additionally, when it comes to leading change, some believe we must be endlessly optimistic, reframing every issue as a positive step towards a better future. That’s deluded.

This belief stems from a fear that if problems emerge, the very people we are leading will turn their backs on the project. I was one of those people hiding issues until I could manage them into irrelevance. That was stupid and risky. 

We all would agree that there are good surprises and bad surprises. No one likes bad surprises. There are no balloons or greeting cards to celebrate the trauma of sugar crashes and shrunken clothing. 

People want to know about the potential problems associated with a project so they can anticipate and work around them. Even if unavoidable (I know the needle will pinch a little) it’s better to be prepared for the pain than to experience the shock of something unexpected. 

And there’s also a silver lining from pointing out the pain: 

  • It fosters collective learning. Pain is instructional.
  • When people feel informed about the good and the bad, they are more likely to trust and support you.
  • When people are informed, they can help resolve the issue.
  • When people help solve a problem, they buy in to the solution, strengthening commitment to change.

There are two main reasons people resist change. One of them is a lack of control. When we are honest about the good and the bad, we enable people to prepare and pitch in, fostering a sense of control over the situation. It’s an unbeatable motivator when you need people on-side with your direction.

Revealing failures may feel risky, but the potential upside to honesty is huge. Leading a project that drives change means hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. When someone asks you if your glass is half full or half empty tell them, “Yes.”

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff