Leaders understand resistance to change

During my family’s reunion in the Smoky Mountains last summer, we engaged in one of our favorite traditions, a river trip. As usual, my brother Jack researched the possibilities and chose the lower section of the Pigeon River. It was a short two-hour trip on a mild stream. The lower section has only a few Class 1 rapids so it was tame enough to take children as young as 3 years old.

A 45-minute drive found us at the headquarters for the outfitters. We picked out life vests, paddles, and helmets and attended a mandatory description of the trip accompanied with safety instructions. Finally the march to the river’s edge began and we crossed the river on a swinging bridge. Heights and unstable bridges are never my favorites, but the kids traversed it with ease.

Once at the put-in point, we had to choose our boats. My daughter, her husband, and her son along with my daughter-in-law and my other grandson were in a raft with me. My brother Jack with his two children, Jacqui and Jacsun, our niece Tresine and her daughter, and my wife were in another raft. Several other rafts were filled with various other family members and a number of strangers.

Jacqui, who is 7, and Jacsun, aged 5, were in a mood when we arrived replete with protests of the whole event. As the raft left the shore, I looked at Jacqui and saw a sour look on her face. Soon the guide found a small rapid and hit it just right to put that tickle in her stomach. The tickle changed her attitude and she kept yelling, “More, I want more!” My grandsons’ attitudes were also impacted in a positive way by the thrill of the rapids.

Later we were allowed to get out of the raft and swim. Jacqui couldn’t wait to get in the river but with the chill of the water, she couldn’t wait to get back into the raft either. The only fault with the trip was that we were not allowed to bring any drinking water. Even a two-hour trip in the hot sun can dehydrate you. So we were extremely thirsty by the time the buses returned us to headquarters where we quickly purchased several bottles of water.

Overall, given that most of the children had never been on raft trip, it was a memorable experience. It reminded me of how some employees are automatically negative toward a new experience. Then once they learn more about it and understand the techniques required for success, they find the experience enjoyable or at least doable. Good leaders understand a natural resistance to change and spend a great deal of time explaining new process and expectations, while answering questions and listening to the employee’s expectations. The biggest enabler of succeeding with change involves sharing expectations in all directions and doing all you can to make the new behaviors doable.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.