Leadership Matters: Dealing With Change and Overcoming Uncertainty

signpost with challenging way right way hard way fast way arrows pointing in all directions
By Julie Benezet

3 minutes

4 key principles for navigating the challenges of pursuing progress

Life in the realm of financial services is really challenging. Incredible, scary and daunting changes appear one after another, and leaders wonder how to handle them. The world is changing so quickly that we sometimes stagger under the complexity and uncertainties. Stability is gone. Relentless change is the norm. 

What can we do?

Chart a New Course

Embark on a road to discovering new ideas that will improve the future of your organization and members. This requires taking chances. Decision-making is filled with uncertainty. Even if safeguards for turning back are built into the process, leadership calls for forward movement—there is little room for second-guessing.

Here are four key principles to help navigate your credit union through uncertainty and overcome the challenges of pursuing something new.

1. Dare to dream.

Focus on ideas designed to move your staff and organization to a higher plane. Encourage your team to explore new markets outside of the core business or to create new initiatives based on member requests for help. Find different ways to build teams, allowing team members rather than managers to choose new projects or roles and evaluate themselves and their teammates. Identify ways to overcome team members’ reluctance to give each other valuable feedback. Let anyone with a good idea tackle and develop an action plan to solve a new challenge.

Stop ignoring dreams. Focus thought and energy on the underlying problems your organization needs to solve, even if it will be hard. If it scares you, you are on the right track.

Once you identify a dream, crystallize it by getting feedback from the people who will benefit from it, whether that’s credit union staff or your community.

2. Get comfortable with fear and risk.

Adopt a healthy attitude toward risk. Recognize its contribution to success. Testing new ideas is scary, and yes, things can go wrong. Not everyone will agree with a new idea. Friends, colleagues, members and directors might see the value and impacts differently. Some people may welcome and embrace new ideas while others greet them with suspicion or annoyance.

Conflicting reactions can cause anxiety for change leaders, fueling a fear-laden inner dialogue about the possible consequences of your proposed change: Will they laugh at me? Will it fail? Will I lose my reputation or my job over this? Or will they love it? 

Pioneering ideas is a nerve-wracking adventure, yet it is a critical part of driving critical change. You are leading your credit union on the road to improvement. Embrace the discomfort of the journey; push through the fear to channel your energy and focus on identifying what works and doesn’t. Learn from mistakes and recalibrate as needed.

3. Overcome self-sabotaging behaviors.

Recognize that human beings are messy. 

When people are asked to try something new without knowing the outcome, walls of resistance will rise. People often react defensively to change in order to cope with the fear of failure.

Micromanagement and conflict avoidance top the list of self-defeating behaviors people demonstrate when encountering change. Help your team to overcome these behaviors when they occur. Work to surmount obstacles (“This new software doesn’t work with our current workflow!”) and resistance (“Members will hate this new color scheme!”), as they will stand in the way of needed problem-solving and organizational progress.

Recognize when defenses are triggered. Understand the negative impacts of the change. Then take action to address and overcome those impacts. Return to the quest for new ideas if needed, but don’t let resistance distract you from fulfilling your goal.

4. Push through the discomfort.

Clearly identify the purpose for making change. Then jump in. Focus on that purpose.

Derive the strength you need to achieve change from organizational values, impactful member stories and your credit union’s vision for the future. Know yourself. Know where you came from. Identify your values and use them to face the discomfort of the new.

Apply what you know about your organization, staff, members and community to address the chaos of uncertainty and bring about effective change. Channel your strengths and use them to power and motivate the people whose lives you want to make better—the people who want to make your members’ lives better.

The reward is the thrill of making a difference.

Julie Benezet spent 25 years in law and business, and for the past 17 years has coached and consulted with executives from virtually every industry. She is the author of the award-winning The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None, and a companion workbook, The Journal of Not Knowing.

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