How Change Leaders Build Trust

How can you help new leaders implement changes successfully?


Many of us have experienced changes in organizational leadership, and we know it often causes feelings of uncertainty among employees at all levels. What will the future hold? Will my role still exist or will I be let go? Dr. Shirley Raines, the first female president of the University of Memphis and a leadership consultant, speaker and author, explains that successful change leaders bring reassurance — reassurance of what the organization wants to achieve; reassurance that changes will be discussed and made thoughtfully; and reassurance that individuals will be taken seriously and respectfully.

“There’s trust that comes from communicating, ‘Yes, we're moving in this direction…but we have to do it differently,” says Shirley. “We will operate with a different set of resources…we may have to push our long-term goal out…yes, we have a problem and here are the steps we're going to take. But our organization needs some help from you. What can you contribute to help us think this through and do a better job?"

Often, when the new person comes in, the new person has been selected. There's been a long process of searching and deciding who will lead. And during that process, people are anxious and they don't know what their future brings. Will they be a part of the leadership team or will they be like go?

Part of what one has to do within the culture is to bring reassurance, to bring reassurance of what you want to achieve, that you know that there will be changes, but that you as the leader will talk about those changes and why and that you're going to not summarily make those changes. And they as individuals are going to be taken seriously. So there's that relief that comes from anxieties being settled.

There's the trust that comes from, "Yes, where we're moving in this direction. We're all on board on this." And then a problem will arise. "Our nonprofit didn't raise enough money so what are we going to do to still keep on that track of doing all these just, and wonderful, and good things?"

But we have to do it differently. Does it mean job sharing? We will operate with a different set of resources, but how will we manage those resources? And saying, "How could we get more out of these resources?" Or, "How can we use these resources to generate more resources?

We may have to push our long-term goal out a bit further, but we will be still making those steps along that trajectory. So dealing with the feelings of people, dealing with the real problems that they and the organization are encountering and communicating that whole process. "Yes, we have the problem. It is a problem. We're communicating it. Here are the steps we're going to take, but I need some help from you. Our organization needs some help from you. What can you contribute to help us to help us think this through and do a better job?"

Dr. Shirley Raines

Dr. Shirley Raines was the first woman to hold the presidency of the University of Memphis, where she served for 12 years. In 2013, she was named President Emeritus. Known for building productive partnerships on and off campus, Shirley i...

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