Leading Change is Hard

What’s harder than going through change? Short answer: Helping someone else go through change.

Long answer: In my experience, helping others go through change proves to be more of a challenge. Experiencing change produces a variety of emotions and sometimes, it can be difficult to empathize with others and really see where they’re at. Over the past year, we have made some significant changes at Interstates that will help set us up well for years to come. But with that, everyone has been asked to embrace and even lead lots of changes.

As you can imagine, we have had a variety of responses—a wide range of emotions and acceptance. As we have helped others through it, a few strategies have shown incredibly beneficial:

  • Emphasize Stability: When talking about change, it can seem counter-intuitive, but focusing on what is not changing can help provide clarity and a sense of stability. At Interstates, no matter the change, what hasn’t changed is our Interstates Core; our values, our whys, and our vision remain the same. With that, we try to talk about what is not changing as much as we talk about what is changing.
  • Change Curve: Everyone goes through a change curve (see below) that usually includes experiencing shock, denial, frustration, depression, experimentation, positivity, and finally, acceptance and integration. It’s important to create space for people to go through this process with respect. Some people move more quickly, and others need more time, support, and information to embrace change.


*based on the model by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

  • Root Cause Understanding: As people are going through the change curve, if they seem to be stuck in a certain change curve stage or reverting to previous parts of the curve, it helps to get to the root cause understanding of what may be causing frustration. In conversations with people, we have discovered, that one change may trigger a frustration that occurred with a past change. Another reason people may be stuck in the change process is the coupling of the change at work occurring when they are also experiencing change in their personal life—the feeling of being surrounded by change can be overwhelming and leave a person stuck in the valley (depression) of the change curve. When this is happening, it can be helpful to create awareness for the individual by decoupling the changes from each other and work through each one individually.

More than anything, when helping others navigate their way through change, practicing empathy and patience can go a long way in being supportive. A leader should first identify where they are in the change curve and then help others identify their own current stage. From there, you can try to discern how to make progress—you may need more information, more time to process what this change may mean personally, or even how this may create new opportunities. No matter where you or others are at in the change process, taking time to dig deep into the root cause feelings that are occurring can help make progress towards acceptance and integration.

It’s our role as leaders to be supportive and a resource to others. Everyone must go through the change process themselves and at their own pace. Like their jobs, we can’t do it for them, but we can be there to walk alongside them.


Danielle Crough, Interstates Vice President of People and Culture


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