Encouraging Comfort with Change – The Challenge for Today’s Leader


Marge Combe

Wisconsin, USA

Now there are two words that don’t belong together – comfort and change!  Authors O’Connor and Fiol, in a 2006 article titled ‘Handling Emotional Reactions to Change’, cite research that links common negatively viewed emotions to change: fear, insecurity, loss of control, separation or isolation, frustration, and anxiety.  Hardly sounds like the dictionary’s definition of ‘comfort’: ‘something that adds to one’s ease of living’, does it?

But here’s the conundrum for you as leaders today.  The environment itself is creating the same chaotic emotions.  No longer are they reserved for the distinct introductions of corporate change; they are being cited by employees today as specters in their day-to-day work lives.  The truth is that whether it’s intentional or not, your organizations are experiencing change on an unprecedented scale and volume, and the emotions accompanying change are tagging along.

One thing we know about living with these emotions is that they are damaging if constant.  They are meant to deal with emergencies, not with steady states.  They close down rational thought and innovation, and cause us to favor hunkered-down, automatic responses.  This is hardly what your organizations need in these times.  You want the maximum of reflective thinking about opportunities presented by the disrupted marketplace; you want optimal efforts at out-of-the-box partnerships; you want clear-headed decisions.

Your challenge as leaders today is to move yourself first, and your organization’s employees, to an ‘ease of living’ with change as a steady state.  How do you begin to generate greater comfort with an environment of change?

  • Extend the timeline:  We deal better with change incrementally than suddenly.  Language your messages about the organization’s need to change in evolutionary terms rather than radical terms.  Even knowing how fundamentally you may need to change, ask for the baby steps first, to build confidence.
  • Make the monolithic manageable:  Any time we don’t fully understand a change, it feels enormous and complex.  As your organization sees the big issues on the horizon, start breaking them down into pieces that can be discussed with confidence.  Instead of a monolithic discussion of how consumer preferences for online purchases might affect you, for example, review a specific product and generate ideas – and then generalize if appropriate.


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About the Author

marge-combeMarge Combe flag-usa

Wisconsin, USA

Marge Combe is a coach/consultant with Vernal Management Consultants, LLC (VMC), a firm specializing in the professional development and effective business practices of leaders and leadership teams (www.vernalmgmt.com).  VMC currently coaches a number of leaders and business owners in the project management profession, in North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Rim, and South America.  Marge joined VMC in 2008 after more than 35 years in portfolio management, strategic planning and large-scale change management for Northwestern Mutual and Whirlpool Corporation.   She has leveraged that experience and a passion for coaching and mentoring into a consulting and leadership coaching role with special focus on her roots: change management, strategic planning, and project management.  Marge is a former PMI board director and Chair of the Strategic Planning and Program Alignment Committee.  She was instrumental in shaping and leading a Fortune 500 Project Management Benchmarking Forum.  She is certified in coaching through Lominger International and in emotional intelligence through the Institute for Health and Human Potential.  She received the 2007 Woman of Influence Award for mentoring, and the 2010 Leadership Excellence Award from Marquette University.  Marge can be contacted at [email protected].