Leading, motivating through change

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Cassidy Wong
  • 88th Air Base Wing

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio -- It is no secret that over the last several years, the Air Force has released a multitude of changes, with some being more well-received than others.

Those changes ranged from grooming-standard updates – with approval of the highly debated ponytail – and personnel applications like myEval and myDecs that are still undergoing maintenance to a decrease in promotion rates and significant policy rewrites.

So how do we lead through change that we may or may not agree with? How do we motivate our people and keep their anxiety and stress at bay? If we as leaders feel resistant to change, who are we to place that expectation on subordinates to accept it immediately and move on?

Our people want to be led, and as leaders, we are responsible for supporting and promoting higher-level leadership decisions. Despite our personal opinions, we must address the needs of our people and help them navigate through the change with clarity and purpose while keeping them engaged. The best way to achieve a positive outcome for all and successfully lead and motivate through institutional change is via three important leadership traits: authenticity, empathy and stability.

Being an authentic leader may sound easy. However, it takes courage and confidence to be vulnerable enough to share our true selves with our team. While some leaders may be good at putting up a front to fit the mold of how they envision a leader to look and act, their people will eventually be able to read between the lines and identify someone who is portraying a false image – or in layman’s terms, being phony.

Authenticity is a key leadership trait because it means you are true to yourself, committed to the organization and unwilling to compromise your moral values. This behavior, in turn, builds trust within your team members because they see the real you. Sharing the “real you” as a leader is important during change because it develops trust in your team and the process, along with confidence from subordinates that your expected outcomes are attainable.

Encouraging motivation in your people through change does not just come from being optimistic. Leaders must also be empathetic.

A common trap leaders can fall into is expecting everyone to be on board and accept the change immediately without encouraging honest communication. That mindset can be extremely discouraging and unrealistic. The challenges and growing pains that come with institutional change are good and help our teams grow for the better.

We must create a space with empathy to hear our team’s challenges and concerns and address them head-on. Even though change is being imposed across the Air Force, we should still be empathetic and engage in open dialogue. If we decide to push for the alternative, our people will end up feeling unheard, demotivated and undervalued.

Finally, how do we instill an environment and climate of stability? Everyone should know what to expect when they come to work. As leaders, that responsibility and accountability rest with us. We need to educate ourselves and seek the most current policy changes to provide that expectation and stability.

People turn to their leaders for answers, and while we do not have to have them all, we do need to provide stability by building reassurance in their role with organizational progression. The key to achieving this is providing confidence in our team’s ability to accept the change and continue to succeed now and in the future.

Maintaining regular check-ins to keep your finger on the pulse and being aware of the team’s needs and reactions is especially important for gauging emotional well-being. We need to show up for them every day, just as we expect them to show up for us.

Leading and motivating in an era with extreme social and technological advancement, economic distress and disruption are unfortunately the new normal. To continue moving forward, it is up to us as leaders to maintain perseverance and resilience to work toward clear goals with authenticity, empathy and stability.

Troops want to be led. While we, as leaders, may disagree or struggle with institutional change and its method of implementation, our inherent responsibility to lead, manage and mentor our people cannot be forgotten.

Find your balance – your team relies on it.