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Four Principles for Leaders About Change

by Tyler Reagin

Why is it so hard to change? I mean seriously. How many times have you tried to change a habit, a routine, even an attitude and you come up short? You keep repeating your same mistakes. Maybe for you it’s not even mistakes, it’s just continuing to do the same thing you have done for years. I recently read Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings, where he talks about the idea of pruning. Things that are good, or even great, for a season have to be cut away and changed because they are not BEST for the long-term. Isn’t that one of the hardest ideas to buy into? Cutting away or letting go of once amazing ideas, events, or even people is one of the most difficult decisions we can ever make, but it is a necessity. It’s leadership at the core.

Over the past seven months, Catalyst has been going through a process that every organization should go through. A brand audit. We just put our organization through the ringer to see what remains as great and what needs to change. Here we were, holding 14 years of amazing events, content, and service, and we felt God saying, “Those were great years, but it’s time for new.”

So we prayed, and we obeyed. Not just for our sake, but also for the leaders we serve, for you. Our prayer was simple, God, we are simply the stewards of your movement with Catalyst, what’s next?

Through this tiring, yet life-giving process, we discovered some truths about Catalyst that must change. I learned so much about how to push through the hard work of perceptions, and the reality of what we want to be known for. Even as we are changing, I took some notes on the hard work of change. Here are four principles for leaders to know about when it comes to change.

1. Leaders cannot be paralyzed by the past, we must be willing to change.

I’m going to be completely vulnerable here. Moving into the leadership position with a very successful and loved organization is not the easiest thing in the world. Especially when it’s time to make a change. I’m constantly living in the tension between honoring the past (amazing leadership decisions by Gabe Lyons, Jeff Shinabarger, and Brad Lomenick,) while moving into the future. I often tell the team, “The change I’m talking about isn’t a reflection of something wrong with the past, it is the direction for our future.” Leaders, honor the past, but don’t you dare be crippled by it. Say “thank you” and move forward.

2. Leaders must have open discussion and debate to discover the needed change.

Throughout this process, the team we gathered to walk through this project would engage in lively debate. And when I say lively, I mean hard, emotional, intense debate. Why? Because it is that important, to all of us. Leaders often cower at the thought of their team pushing back and debating their ideas. We can’t. Just because you are the leader does not mean you have the best ideas. You must trust your team, people who give their lives to the same mission you do. They often have an even better understanding of the organization than you do because they see all the issues that are sometimes hidden from the leader. Trust the process and don’t shy away from debate.

3. Leaders need to trust that change must happen.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but change must happen. The Church is a living, breathing organism that moves, grows and changes. Similarly, your organization is alive, and like any living organism, if change and growth are hindered, it will die. Do you remember those years in middle school (or high school for the late bloomers like myself—all 5’4’’ and 92 lbs of me) when you actually felt growing pains? You physically hurt because your body was developing and growing. Would you have given up that growth so you didn’t feel the pain? Not a chance! Leaders, we must embrace the growth that comes with leading, and the pain that comes with that growth. It makes us the leaders we are today, and develops the leaders we will be in the future.

4. Leaders must be vulnerable for true change to occur.

How hard is this? It can be one of the most difficult experiences for a leader. The truth is, you can’t truly lead an organization to the change God has planned, if you, as the leader, are not willing to be changed in the process. I was shocked by the number of times throughout this process when I realized, “For that change to happen, I’m going to have to change.” Ugh. Not what I was expecting. It turns out that it doesn’t matter that I am the new guy; God has something in store, not just for Catalyst, but also for me. As a leader, I can’t even begin to lead our organization through change, if I’m not willing to be a part of that change. I have to lay myself out on the same audit space that our organization was going through, because the only way to lead change is to be changed.

What if we as leaders, would choose to fight for change even when it hurts? What if we choose to be vulnerable just like we are asking our teams to be? What if we stop letting the past keep us from moving to where we feel God is calling us to go?