Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation: Guiding the Throttle of Change (Part 2)

Mark DixonRising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation, The CACE Roundtable2 Comments

Rising Leaders' Guide to Change and Innovation Guiding the Throtle of Change Part 2

In his introduction to this blog series, Dr. Matt Lambro alludes to John Kotter’s eight-step process of leading organizational change. The first three steps focus on creating a climate for change. In order to “trigger the flywheel” of generative and sustainable momentum in an organization, we noted in Part 1 that relational trust must permeate the daily life and interactions of its community members.

But even in the context of healthy relationships, resistance to change is a common human response. Kotter & Schlesinger assert that resistance to change is often due to one of the following factors: 1) a desire not to lose something of value, 2) a misunderstanding of the change and its implications, 3) a belief that change does not make sense to the organization, or 4) a low tolerance for change. 

Effective change management requires that leaders throttle the rate of change for all stakeholders. Particularly during the recent pandemic, leaders have had to reduce or streamline long-term desired changes in order to make space for the changes necessary right now. Though paradoxical, you must slow down to go fast.

Priorities During Times of Change

In practice, leaders negotiating change should take the time for the following priorities:

  • Be willing to let go of certain things to make room for others while keeping what is truly valuable. In the wake of change, leaders have to evaluate–what is essential to our success and how much change can my system handle?
    • Let go of initiatives that are not mission-centric.
    • Filter all requirements through the question, “Why do we do this?”
  • Nurture that relational trust by repeatedly communicating the vision for change with clarity and consistency. Caring for the hearts of God’s people takes time and dedication.
    • Lean into your faculty and stakeholders. Build in 1:1 time with each person in your care.
    • Be consistent with your message. You cannot overcommunicate your vision and mission.
  • Create quick wins for stakeholders. Wins may include items linked to the change but also may be strategic for building trust and culture.
    • Announce a jeans day, find a way to afford teachers more planning time, come alongside your people who are pushing hard.
    • Highlight and reward those who take risks.
  • Identify those who are unwilling or unable to tolerate the change or the rate of change. While direct engagement with resistors is difficult, it is imperative to communicate to them with clarity and candor.
    • Do not avoid resistors. Instead, spend time with them. They are a valuable source of information and feedback for you. Clearly communicate your observations and concerns. These conversations will allow you (and them) to determine whether they are able and willing to move forward with the team.

The Leader’s Mindset: Conviction and Resilience

Innovator Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” All leaders focused on catalyzing innovation in a school community will face resistance, critique, and sometimes even unmerited distrust. In order to sustain innovative work as an administrator, one must believe both in her vision and in her ability to doggedly keep going. 

Leading in schools can be likened to playing point guard in the big game, in a packed gymnasium…day in and day out. The stakes are high, all eyes are on you, your fans are cheering, your opponents are heckling, you are winded and exhausted. If you are going to execute the game plan, you need to find a way to dismiss the noise and put your teammates and yourself in the best possible positions for success.

Leadership guru Michael Hyatt has said that “being resilient requires believing you are.”  Even with a clear, robust vision for innovation in an organization, leaders are unable to formulaically manufacture desired outcomes. The lives and times of the people who make up our school communities are fickle, as is their level of satisfaction with the organization. Nonetheless, our struggles, failures, and even breakthroughs force us to reflect, and reflection is arguably the most vital attribute of a lifelong learner.

As we innovate with resilience, we rest in Paul’s reminder to the Thessalonians: “He who called you is faithful; He will do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24).

As leaders, it is critical to invest in relationships, carefully guiding the throttle of change for those in our care. While a leader’s single-minded vision may be respected, people are drawn to follow a leader’s tender heart. As we lead our communities, it is essential to put our people first, demonstrating the love of Christ in both vision and action.

This is the second part of a two-part entry in the Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation. Read part 1 of Guiding the Throttle of Change .


  • Mark Dixon

    Mark has worked 17 years in education, nine as a school administrator. With a background in English, school counseling, and coaching, he has served in public, non-sectarian independent, and Christian schools. He became Dean of Students then Upper School Head at The Stony Brook School on Long Island. He served as Middle School Head at Montgomery School in the Philadelphia suburbs and is currently in his third year as Upper School Head at Delaware County Christian School. Mark and his wife Cara have two boys and two girls.

  • Ellen Barrett

    Ellen Barrett has worked in education for 20 years, with most of those years spent in middle school classrooms. For Ellen, walking with students during this time of vulnerability and immense growth is an opportunity to minister to both them and their parents. Ellen has worked in public and Christian schools, as well as in youth ministry. She attended Texas A&M, Denver Seminary, and Michigan State University, completing an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. She currently serves as Head of Middle School at Second Baptist School. Ellen is married to Davy (also an educator) and is a mom to two teenagers.

2 Comments on “Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation: Guiding the Throttle of Change (Part 2)”

  1. Thanks, Ellen and Mark, for this powerful piece! Kotter’s Change Process is so important to understand in order to have lasting change. However, understanding the resistance to change factors are equally important, and how those factors are contextualized with those we lead.. Thank you for the most practical priorities list for those seeking that leader’s mindset.

  2. I appreciate the timely reminder of the need to follow a clear process, not move too fast and work with resistors. As we seek to implement significant change in our school, this is very helpful.

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