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Leading Change & Being Creative in Uncertain Times

  • April 13, 2021
  • Written by Community Futures Meridian

Constant change is a fact of life. It’s not something that we can predict, and the process is often uncomfortable and messy.  The pandemic has accelerated change world-wide. This type of fundamental change is painful. It is fraught with confusion and chaos; it results in mental and physical ramifications; it can paralyze people and organizations. Simply put the unmatched volatility and uncertain economic and political environment is testing the adaptive skills of organizations worldwide.

Now more than ever communities need strong leaders and that is why on March 24, Community Futures Meridian hosted a Leadership Master Class Series with the third presentation featuring Peggy Koenig speaking on leading Change & Being Creative in Uncertain Times. The presentation, the final installment in a three-part series, was well attended with an audience of Council Members, Mayors, Reeves and County Officials from across Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Provided below are the key lessons from Peggy’s presentation:

Leaders Direct Action

Peggy began her presentation with a story about how as a young woman working at a remote fishing camp she was caught in a storm on a large lake. Huge waves crashed over her small boat. She was afraid. She could not believe this was happening to her. Her heart was pumping. The most she could do was pray for the safe return to shore. Eventually they made it to shore, visibly and emotionally shaken by the big water.

 “Life can be like big water. It is full of random and uncontrollable change. The process is filled with emotion including fear, disbelief, excitement, anxiety, resistance and grief."

Peggy explained that the pandemic is an example of a change that nobody could have predicted. But, it’s something that everybody needs to respond to. 

 “Change is not optional. How we make change and direct action is important.”

She explained that we often box ourselves in with fear and anxiety. This limits our ability to see the future and be creative. 

“How are you directing that action? How do you inspire to leap beyond fear, anxiety and chaos? How do you open your team to excitement, creative and opportunities?”

Leaders are In Control (of themselves) 

Dealing with change can be difficult, but Peggy explained how it is important for leaders to build personal resilience first and foremost. 

“Leaders need to ensure they are controlling themselves. The key is to not panic and avoid making fear-based decisions. Leaders need to be emotionally aware, optimistic, and have the belief that challenges can be overcome.”

According to Peggy, if you are looking for that one person who can make change, look in the mirror.

 “Directing change starts with you.”

Leaders are Empathetic

Peggy explained leaders do not affect change in isolation. They work as part of a team, and successfully directing action through changing times requires leaders be empathetic. Great leaders seek understanding and be aware of the emotions of their team. 

“You can’t direct action by going by gut. You need empathy and you need to show some vulnerability yourself. Be curious about your people and find commonalities. You really need to listen. Listen hard and pick up on cues.”

One of the key tools that leaders can use is asking constructive questions. 

“Recognize that individuals react to change and action differently. You need to make sure that you are actively listening and reframing what you’ve heard to ensure you’ve properly understood what was communicated.”

They key is to be real. Leaders need to be encouraging and supportive. You want to make sure you are not putting people in a defensive position; avoid judging. 

“You need to step back and pause and address the emotional dimensions of change and action. Making change happen is both intellectual but it’s also the emotional side; which is the key piece.”

Leaders Unleash Creativity

Although change can be difficult and chaotic, Peggy explained that change can also be an opportunity for creativity and innovation. An example is the economic development opportunity presented by the ‘buy local’ movement. 

“People want to be more crisis proof. What opportunities does this present?

Leaders Get Results

“It’s not enough to sit in Council chambers and have good intentions. You need to be visible and show empathy for what is going on. You need to get involved.”

Peggy explained that it is not enough to just ‘get by’. Even during change we need to be focused on results. Good intentions are not sufficient. Leaders need to be visible and stay involved. 

It is important to set expectations for your team and yourself and make sure that you are communicating the vision.

“What am I going to do for my team. What am I going to do for the municipality? What can people expect from me?”

Conclusion

The final takeaway from Peggy’s presentation was that fear of failure and self-limiting beliefs are two of the biggest challenges to success. She explained that one of the keys to building resilience is not being afraid to fail. In addition to being compassionate, empathetic, and optimistic, leaders need to have the confidence to face any challenge head-on.

Peggy closed with a story about how when she was a kid she never learned to swim. She had always been told that the ‘Koenig family didn’t possess the ability to float’. This self-limiting belief and fear led her to avoid swimming. Later in life a friend had showed her how to float by inflating her lungs with air. Her friend explained that floating was easy, “All you have to do is inflate the life jacket within.” 

 Peggy encouraged leaders to believe in themselves (and their teams) when facing ‘big water’. 

“Focus on ‘inflating the life jacket within.’

We’d like to thank our partners including SEDA and fellow Community Futures offices:    CF Sagehill,  CF Ventures,  CF Newsask, CF Lakeland. 

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