Suspense. Is it a bad thing or a good thing? Some people won’t watch a suspenseful movie or read a suspenseful book. Others won’t read or watch unless there IS suspense. 

Suspense is that sense of fear and excitement we feel when something is unknown. When we don’t know what’s next—but want to know—we have that all-too-familiar feeling. Wanting it resolved either drives us on or leads us to avoid the book or movie altogether. We yearn to know what will happen next.

Of course movies and books are choices. We decide if we want the experience of suspense. But most of what is suspenseful in life is not chosen. And that makes a big difference. We find ourselves in suspenseful situations and we didn’t necessarily make any choices to experience them. That is just as true for those we lead. In fact, it may be even more true for them.

How can we as leaders, who are in the center of leading change, calm the suspenseful fears of those we lead? I want to explore this by taking a fresh look at the answers we gave in our chapter on leading change.

Help those you are asking to change see why the change is needed.
You are where you are as a leader because you have developed the ability to make good decisions with good reasons for those decisions. Communicating those good reasons (remember 7 times, 7 ways?) helps calm down some of the suspense. When your good reasons are not known, those you lead are much more likely to make incorrect assumptions. Better that they have the real reasons straight from you.

Help them feel like they are in the loop, even with information they may not need. The more they know, the less they fear.
There is an inverse relationship between knowledge and fear. The less we know, the more we fear; the more we know, the less we fear. The unknown makes people uncertain, and that uncertainty can drive people right into the anxiety that makes them (and you) stupid. You’ve got nothing to hide in your ability to lead well. Be transparent to the greatest degree that is practical.

Show them your quiet confidence and unwavering belief that this change is the right thing to do.
This is simply another way of describing the power of remaining calm in anxious situations. Here’s a belief I have: the stronger a person needs to come up to make their point, the weaker that point often is. And the more emotionally out of control a leader becomes, the more they reveal their own insecurity about what they are talking about. Your quiet confidence shows you are secure and at peace that this is the right direction and the right steps to take.

Listen to their concerns. It is important to understand, and it is important that they FEEL understood.
I’m just off the phone with a client as I write this. He is in the process of “moving the cheese” for some people that report to him. He has established a goal that in every interaction, especially in those when there is push back, he will make sure each person leaves the conversation “feeling felt”—believing that he understands where they are coming from. The change will be led well to the degree he is successful in doing this.

Remind them of what this will do for the purpose/vision, even if not for the pursuit of comfort or the avoidance of pain.
It’s important to be honest that this might not be comfortable. And it’s important to be honest about the benefits. Remember the parable of the bricklayer? The vision you’re pursuing might build a cathedral, and that cathedral is worth it.

Right now we are all in the middle of leading change in our organizations. We’re in suspenseful circumstances. Some of us didn’t even choose to be the protagonist in the book that is our career and the movie that is our livelihood currently. These words and reminders from your year of LEAD have never been more important.

Lead on,

Image by docoverachiever. Used under CC by 2.0 license.