Leading Change with Empathy, Compassion and Wisdom


Organization: an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc.

or·ga·ni·za·tion | \ ˌȯr-gə-nə-ˈzā-shən:

If organizations are an “organized body of people” then it stands to reason that organizations themselves don’t really change.

What actually changes are the collective group of people within that organization who will determine the need, desire and means to move forward.  As a leader, if you want the change to stick, you stand a much better chance if people are motivated from a sense of trust that the future for themselves, their colleagues and the organization will be better than maintaining the status quo.

The change challenges organizations face will not go away if people are anxious or concerned about the future and the security of their place within it. The emotional and physical responses we call “stress” are associated with uncertainty about the future. When there is uncertainty, people can jump right to “what if?” scenarios, fearing the worst…even when it has been well communicated…and especially when it has not. What people really want is not to avoid change per se, but instead feel as secure about the future as they possibly can.

We often use the term “resistance” to describe this phenomenon. That word, to me, implies it is some sort of active insurrection or mutiny rather than people’s normal responses driven by very real and rational fears about their own security.

Lasting changes, particularly ones involving deeply held beliefs about the organization or “corporate culture” are successful because the internal dialogue of the people who make up the organization has shifted away from strong negative emotions driven by fear to positive ones about embracing the future.

Taking a mindful approach to organizational change allows us to explore how we can lead with;

  1. Empathy – being aware of, understanding and being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others who are affected by the change.

  2. Compassion – being consciousness of others' distress about the changes coupled with a desire to alleviate them.

  3. Wisdom- using self-awareness, non-attachment, knowledge, understanding, common sense and insight to craft approaches that are clear, empowering and devoid of biased judgments.

These are not only qualities to cultivate in yourself, but can be developed in your teams too. For example, you can consider using some intentional open-ended questions with the people impacted by the change.

  • What is going through your mind right now?

  • What are you feeling during this period of change?

  • How do you think your job or what you do might change in the future?

  • What information is missing that I might be able to clear up for you?

  • How do you think our colleagues, partners, clients or customers may feel about this change?

  • What simple actions we can take right now to help with what you’ve shared?

Experiencing the highs, lows and neutrality of ever-changing emotional states is part of our common humanity. It is who we are, not something separate, best left at home or locked away. Negative or fearful emotional states are where change gets “stuck” and more and more organizations are coming to realize that if they are going to grow, evolve, prosper or attract new talent, they’ve got to embrace what it means to be a human being in the midst of change.

Probing for, being open to and displaying a willingness and courage to acknowledge others emotional states as part of the change process, to say, in essence, “Yes, me too”, “Yes, you too” or “Yes, I am present” will have a profound impact on the nature of your work relationships and the presence of trust in the culture.

“There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” – Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)

Connect with us to learn how the YOU in You Consulting can help you lead with empathy, compassion and wisdom.