The Tortoise Change Leader

Many of us know the children’s story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The two are having a race, and everyone knows the hare will win. After all, a hare is much faster than a turtle. The hare decides to take it easy and even rest for a while, but the tortoise keeps going, slow and steady. Who wins? The tortoise. The point is that sometimes the race goes to the slow and steady one.

If you are called to be a leader of change, you will need to learn the skill of slow and steady change. It is a rare situation in which a change leader can come in and make large scale changes to an organization quickly. Those who do attempt so often get their attempt cut short as they are removed from their leadership role.

Church leaders who attempt change also need to learn this concept of slow and steady change. I have realized my own shortcomings in this in a few situations I have been in. I tend to get impatient and want to change too much at once.

A good change leader understands how to lead slowly and steadily toward a desired goal. Here are ten actions to take to be a tortoise-like Change Leader. They may need to be worked on in a slightly different order than listed, depending on your situation. As you work through these actions, they will help you to feel you have some movement while keeping you to a slow and steady pace.

1. Evaluate Early: When you take on the role of change leader, evaluate early in your role. Evaluate the organization and team you are responsible for. Evaluate how they are doing in accomplishing stated purposes and goals, and whether those are even the appropriate goals and purposes to have. Leaders who wait to evaluate until they have been in the role for a while tend to become blind to things that need to be changed. It is amazing how quickly we get comfortable with how things are and then lose our ability to see critically. You will see things more clearly if you evaluate early, even though the change may be a while in coming.

Ask people to speak into your evaluation. As a pastor, you may want to do a congregational assessment so you can learn what the present reality is. In one church I got into trouble because I assumed too much. I was used to doing things a certain way and didn’t even consider that the church may have done things differently than I was used to. I ended up making more changes early without even knowing it, because of course, I was new to the church and had no idea how they did things in the past. Assessment may help prevent you from attempting to implement unnecessary and potentially harmful changes.

2. Pray First: Pray about the changes you believe need to be made. If you are trying to change things in a church, you want to make sure you are on track with what God has planned and that can only happen if you are listening carefully. Invite your leadership and other prayer warriors to join you in praying for wisdom and clear direction from God.

3. Love Deeply: Make your first priority to love the people experiencing the changes you will implement. Do anything and everything you can to show them you want to get to know them. Show them you want to get to know their history. Ask questions about who they are and what they care about. Celebrate together when things go well.

Loving people deeply can contribute to change being accepted because they have accepted you.  Show them that you want to put them first, but you want the best for them and that is why you are making changes.

4. Share Goals Carefully: Work with the leadership to get a sense of where changes should be made and even some of what the changes would look like. Have a goal in mind but don’t share it with too many people at first. If people hear about all you want to change at the beginning, they may be overwhelmed and not give you opportunity to change anything. This isn’t about deceiving people but about having time to build on small wins before sharing some of the bigger changes to come.

5. Build a Team: Work especially closely with those who want changes and will champion them for you. Help them introduce the changes so they don’t just come from the leader but from a larger team. Make sure you are all on the same page, having worked through the process of evaluating and planning for change together.

6. Begin Small: Start with a few small changes. Ask your team to help you figure out a few small things that could be changed. Invite them into the process of thinking through how that change would look. You might begin some of the changes by suggesting: “Let’s try this for a short period of time.” People are more willing to accept change if they know there is an end to it, or that it is not set in stone.

7. Evaluate Changes Honestly: Once you have changed something, evaluate it honestly. Evaluate how it went and decide if it should stay, and stay as is, or stay with some changes. Don’t assume it went well just because it was your idea. Invite the appropriate people into the evaluation so you can honestly determine if the change is good or not.

8. Communicate Clearly: Be very clear with all those affected. Inform them of what is being changed and why, as well as how the change will help improve things. If it is a change that will be noticed by all those in your organization then invite the whole organization into the evaluation. If it is only a certain department, then invite that department into the process. Once the evaluation process is complete, clearly communicate if it will stay, why, and what adjustments may be made.

9. Build on Wins: After a few smaller wins you will be able to make slightly larger changes. You can slowly build momentum on the changes that go well. If there is a change that is not adapted, don’t see it as a failure but as a means of developing credibility with your team as well as with those hesitant to make changes. If they realize you want the best and are not just forcing changes through, they may be quicker to accept the next “trial change”.

10. Develop Patience and Perseverance: Don’t give up if a few changes are not accepted. Be patient and persevere for the long term. The longer you are part of a church, the more likely you will be able to increase the rate of change. This will be because people get to know you and trust you. It will also be because over time there will be more people who started attending the church after you came, so they chose the church aware of who you are and how you lead and the changes you are making.

It is not easy to be a change leader. You will face opposition. Hopefully, if you move at a slow steady pace, you will face less of it and begin to build on your wins. Hang in there for the long haul. And trust God to give you wisdom and guide you as you look to Him.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

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