top of page
Business Meeting

See how we can help today

Leading People Through External Change

"Change is here to stay” is the famous quote that paradoxically points out that change is inevitable. Since this is the case, we would have perhaps thought that, as humans, we become used to change. Instead, we tend to become invested in our current processes and find them hard to let go of, with 62% of people preferring to stay in their comfort zone when faced with change.

Before we delve into how you can lead people through external change, consider the following scenario.

Imagine it's Friday evening, and you decide you want fish and chips for tea (or dinner if you live further south). You go to the best fish and chip shop in town, knowing that you will probably need to queue. When you arrive, this indeed turns out to be the case. You join the queue, but halfway through, you begin to wonder if the wait is worth it. The only problem is that you have already invested a significant amount of time and energy in the queue. Leaving would cause you to lose or waste that time and energy; you have invested, and you are finding it hard to give it up. Do you stay? Or do you go to another fish and chip shop with no queue?

External change can be particularly challenging because, as an organisation, things can feel out of control. As part of VUCA, uncertainty is the one thing that, as humans, we find particularly difficult to deal with, so we tend to hang on to what we know, to the tried and tested, and to the things we have invested time and energy into. We find them hard to give up, especially when the change is external.

It’s All in The Preparation

Leading people through external change is all in the preparation. What we do before change happens is critical to the process of supporting people to move on and let go.

To experience external change unprepared makes the process significantly more painful.

So how can you ensure that leading people through external change becomes easier? Here are a few tips:

Build Trust

Trust takes time to build, and it can be challenging and often requires uncomfortable vulnerability and difficult conversations. In his book, “The Trusted Executive”, John Blakey points to nine habits leaders can develop that rely on the power of trust rather than trusting in power.

We can settle for just enough trust, but this may not be enough when unexpected and uncertain external change takes place. Trusted relationships allow us to take risks, communicate quickly, move at pace, and make decisions in ways that are impossible without trust. If people are to let go of the processes they are invested in, there needs to be high levels of trust.

How much trust is there in your team? What would your direct reports say if they were asked how trustworthy you are?

Develop a Learning Culture

How much time do you give to learning, reflection, and evaluation? How do your teams learn together?

Learning leads to change and constantly improves our practice; learning means letting go of the way we used to do things and moving on as we grow and develop.

In his book, “Coaching the Team at Work”, David Clutterbuck relates this to different types of teams. For example, stable teams, where change is usually more complex and rarer, are project, evolutionary, or cabin crew teams.

Our learning culture will differ depending on the type of team that we have, but the fundamental principle here is to carve out time and be ruthless in developing a learning culture.

Task completion for current performance will always try to exert a powerful force to dominate our time and energy. That is why we must develop a well-established learning culture that will provide fast adaptation when leading people through external change. A learning culture means that change is normal, and people are used to experiencing change.

Make Coaching and Mentoring Your Default Setting

Coaching and being coached promotes empowerment, interdependence, adult-to-adult ego states, creativity, innovation, commitment, good decision-making, and motivation.

All of these are essential when leading people through external change and contrast with the control and tell style that can be our default setting when faced with external changes.

What is your default setting? When you go back to type, what is that?

Our blog, 5 reasons to work with an external leadership coach,” looks at this in more depth, as does our blog Three reasons to invest in leadership coaching now.


External changes are typically things outside of our control; they are unpredictable and can lead to tremendous uncertainty. In times like these, leaders rely on trusted relationships, the learning culture they have grown, and the coaching habit they have practised.

Contact Us Today

We hope that this blog, leading people through external change, has shown how coaching can help leadership development be a success in the change process.

Book a free consultation by calling us today if you want to find out how our leadership development coaching services can benefit your leaders.

Written by Ian at The Leadership Coaches


“Why some people are terrified of change” Mark Murphy

Explanation of VUCA from VUCA world

“The Trusted Executive” John Blakey

“Coaching the Team at Work” David Clutterbuck


bottom of page