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To Win, Help People Count Their Losses


Every change initiative – even the best, most helpful ones – will result in some loss for individuals or groups.

As a leader, you are asking people to participate in changes which will cost them something. Inevitably, they will perceive the change as a threat to something that represents a core value of theirs, and they will see you as embodying that threat.

That sounds grim, doesn’t it? And it can be tough. Distributing loss is one of the functions of leadership.

But if you can stay in the game, stay connected both to people and to your values, you can help them move through the losses of change and onward to a new reality which will be more fruitful and energizing for them and more healthy for your organization.

First, we assume that you won’t downplay the losses with “happy talk” or denial. Loss is loss and change brings loss. Much better is an honest, yet hopeful acknowledgement that you understand that loss will be experienced and in some cases will be all too real but that at the end that which will be gained will outweigh the losses, for the common good.

Even before you do your public work, as a leader you will need to do personal reflection work around loss. Here is a way to start:

  1. Assume that every person affected by the change will experience loss in some way. It might be loss of routine or loss of power or loss of position or loss of influence – but even those who will benefit – who will clearly benefit – will lose something. Don’t forget the importance of self-awareness here – YOU will lose something too. Note it well!
  2. Identify the losses your key people will experience and note them well. The best way to get at this is to determine the things that each individual or group affected value the most and consider where loss or perceived loss may strike relative to those things.
  3. Give voice to these losses, with compassion and honesty. Helpful categories for speaking of loss include: security, identity, money and resources, influence, and independence. Try to speak for people, not to them.
  4. Reframe the losses into a vision of a brighter future, rooted in your shared core values and realistic about the impact. This step is the one that gives hope and energizes your team. But you can’t start here. You have to assume, identify, and give voice before you can reframe.

Change is where leaders “earn their money” because change involves the hard work of helping others navigate the losses associated with change. Lead well and thoroughly at this point and your team has a much better chance of emerging from the change with strength and resiliency. You can successfully lead change and keep your team engaged, unified, and confident!