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Leading in Times of Change

By Jordi Camps posted 11-17-2021 09:59


There is an expression that goes something like this: “Change is the only constant.” 

I am sure we have all heard it. Speaking from personal experience, this expression rings very true. Before becoming a Chief School Business Official, I spent 22 years in the private sector working for a multinational corporation that competed in the telecommunications industry. The company had 150 thousand employees when I started and less than 10 thousand when I left. I experienced the purchase of other companies we wanted to buy as well as the sale of businesses we didn’t want to own any more. In my last three years alone, we were bought and sold twice, first to Google and then to Lenovo.

The company had a culture of rotating employees through different positions approximately every two years. I was a member of the finance, accounting and business management function and this culture was especially strong in this group. In my 22 years, I rotated through different jobs (lateral moves or promotions) more than ten times, which meant that as soon as I started to feel comfortable in a role, I was being moved to a different one, working in a different market and business, and for a different supervisor.

When I became a CSBO I thought the rate of change would slow down dramatically…ha! 

When I became a CSBO I thought the rate of change would slow down dramatically…ha!  Since 2016 I have experienced a change in our school boundaries, the construction of a brand-new school, the closing of one of our schools and transformation of it into a community center, a change from three staggered start and dismissal times to two, and then…when things started to stabilize…the safe and efficient operation of our schools in the middle of COVID-19.

I have stopped stressing about change. Not because it comes easy to me, but because I have learned change is inevitable. In my opinion, nothing productive comes from stressing about it. Instead, as leaders at our school districts, we need to figure out how to lead ourselves and our teams through it. If change is constant, then those teams that are better able to handle it will be most likely to succeed. So the question is:  How do we lead ourselves and our teams through change?

Ariane De Bonvoisin has researched the subject of change and has dedicated many years to helping organizations and individuals navigate change. If you attended ASBO International’s Annual Conference in October 2019 in Washington DC, you may remember her as the keynote speaker at one of the general sessions. In her years researching how to deal with change, Ms. De Bonvoisin has come up with a list of behaviors, traits or attitudes people who successfully navigate change exhibit. Some of them really resonate with me and I try to model and communicate them to members of my team.

According to Ms. De Bonvoisin, people who successfully navigate change:
  • Have Positive Beliefs: A positive attitude sets the tone and permeates through the rest of the team. It encourages your team members to remain optimistic while confronting changes. Employees with positive attitudes are more creative when solving problems and adapting to change.
  • Think “something good will come from this change”:  A pandemic is something nobody wants to have to ever face. No matter how difficult the last twenty months have been for our schools, some positive things have been achieved. We have developed more effective cleaning procedures. We have implemented seating charts on our buses which have helped us better manage student behavior while on the route. These are practices we intend to continue beyond COVID-19 and probably would have never implemented if it wasn’t because we needed to adapt.
  • Are in touch with their emotions and those of their team members: Some members of my team are more hesitant about any changes that come up in their jobs. As leaders, it is important we empathize with their feelings and acknowledge them. Make sure they know you acknowledge that change can be hard. Also explain why the change is needed and make sure they know you are there to support them.
  • Accept change: Whether we agree with the change or not, many times we don’t have a choice in the change being made. I had no say in the decision made by the Teachers Retirement System to change from an annual to a monthly reporting method and neither did my payroll manager. The best she and I could do was embrace the change and work to get ready for it.
  • Believe that something greater than themselves is in charge: I tell myself and my team members that everything happens for a reason. Every time we have gone through a process change of any kind, we grow and become more knowledgeable in our jobs. Change is a main driver of professional growth.
Ms. De Bonvoisin goes through several other attributes that people who successfully navigate change exhibit. You can listen to them in this presentation.     

Change is difficult for many people. I know it is for me. As leaders, however, it is up to us to lead our teams as we navigate any type of change effort. We must remain optimistic, accept that change is inevitable, acknowledge, empathize and support those that struggle the most with it, and show them why change is needed and what positives will come from it.

I will close by recommending a book on leadership that has helped me tremendously. We did a book study on it in my district with all the administrators. It’s called Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity in the Workplace, and Turn Excuses Into Results, written by Cy Wakeman. Change is reality and this book walks through how to lead in a common sense, reality-based way. If you read it, I hope it is as helpful to you as it has been to me.

And remember… change is the only constant. 

By Jordi Camps
Asst. Supt./Business Services, CFO
East Maine SD 63

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