Five key strategies are noted to support sound leadership during challenging times or opportunities that bring about change:

  1. Lead the change you want to see: Change management is an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state. While change—for individuals, teams, and organizations—may feel constant, leading and managing with clear and frequent communication of the vision (in other words, the desired change) enhances the opportunity for success. First, your purpose must be clear. Spend time on the front end thinking about the problem you are trying to solve or the future you are trying to create. Look at the situation through every lens before you go about making your plans.
  2. Understand (and implement) the key strategies of leading change: John Kotter’s influential book, Leading Change, identifies these key, practical strategies to support change, excerpted as follows:
    • Create a sense of urgency
    • Assemble a guiding coalition for external change or a guiding team for internal change
    • Identify a vision
    • Communicate the vision (cultivate ownership, commitment, and buy-in)
    • Empower action toward the vision (remove obstacles)
    • Generate short-term wins (focus on low-hanging fruit)
    • Consolidate gains and build on successful change
    • Institutionalize the change (make it “stick”)[26]
  3. Know the stages of change: Individuals, as well as organizations, pass through multiple stages as they go through the cycle of change. Each of the following stages can be matched with appropriate strategies to promote and support how changes are viewed, implemented, and sustained. William Bridges, in his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes,identifies three stages of change, applicable to both individuals and organizations. These stages, in Bridges own words, are listed as follows:
    • Change begins with an end: what is being lost or grieved in the process?
    • Mid-phase transition: characterized by chaos, confusion, and false starts.
    • Finish with a new beginning: well-defined vision and progress.[27]
  4. Understand how individuals respond to change and innovation: Diffusion of innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and ways of being, as well as technology, spread through cultures. Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies, popularized the theory in his book Diffusion of Innovations; the book was first published in 1962 and is now in its fifth edition (2003). Rogers argues that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the participants in a social system. The origins of the diffusion of innovations theory are varied and span multiple disciplines. Rogers proposes that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system.

    This process relies heavily on human capital. The innovation must be widely adopted to self-sustain. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an innovation reaches critical mass. Diffusion manifests itself in different ways in various cultures and fields and is highly subject to how people adopt the innovation and innovation-decision process. How people adopt these processes depends on how they respond to innovation, change, crisis, and opportunity, so thinking about the people involved can help leaders during a time of change. Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations categorizes the different responses as follows:
    • Innovators: These are people who are the most willing to take risks and are the first to adopt new ideas.
    • Early adopters: These individuals adopt new ideas and innovations easily but generally use more discretion than innovators when making choices. Early adopters are thought to have a high degree of “opinion leadership,” which means that they are especially educated about certain subjects and are therefore capable of influencing others. Opinion leaders, acting as change agents, can bring new ideas and innovations to communities and organizations. As a collaborative leader, the CCDF Administrator should search out early childhood opinion leaders who are considered influential in the community and among their peers to act as champions for early childhood systems building efforts.
    • Early majority: They adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time that is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early majorities have above average social status, contact with early adopters, and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system.
    • Late majority: They adopt an innovation after the average participant. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. Late majorities are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, have little financial liquidity, are in contact with others in late majority and early majority, and have little opinion leadership.
    • Laggards: They are the last to adopt an innovation. They tend to focus on tradition and typically avoid change. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little-to-no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change agents. Laggards typically tend to be focused on traditions, are among the lowest social status, have the lowest financial liquidity, are the oldest among adopters, and are in contact with only family and close friends.[28]
  5. Understand why people sometimes resist change: Organizational change can cause stress for those affected by the change, and resistance to change can manifest itself through rebellion and avoidance. Failure to understand and validate emotions associated with change can hamper efforts to lead and implement changes successfully. Common reasons people resist change include the following:
    • Risk (threat to security and what is known)
    • Loss (perceived or real loss of control, power, rewards, esteem, competence, or relationships)
    • Lack of clarity (which can be especially painful in the ambiguity of the mid-phase)
    • Lack of participation
    • Demand for new behaviors
    • Negative memories of change

[26] Kotter, J. (2012). Leading change.Harvard Business Review Press.
For summaries and other materials from John Kotter, see Choosing Strategies for Change at https://hbr.org/2008/07/choosing-strategies-for-change/ar/1 and The 8-Step Process for Leading Change at http://www.kotterinternational.com/insights/landing-page/8-steps-to-accelerate-change-in-2015/.

[27] Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes (Rev. ed. 25th anniversary). Da Capo Press.

[28] Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). Free Press.