I recently participated in a day-long retreat and planning discussion with my colleagues. The day was both energizing and insightful. However, the part of the day that resonated with me was our morning-long exploration and discussion of transition and change. Our unit’s (a large unit within student affairs, comprising of more than 20 full time staff members across a variety of functional areas) organizational leader is retiring at the end of the quarter. Our morning centered on our feelings about change and strategies for dealing with change. While people expressed a mixture of appreciation for time to prepare for the transition and sadness at our leader’s retirement, I left the day with a reminder of the importance of hope, especially in times of transition and change.
Leaders and leadership play an essential role in shaping transitions and change (Bridges & Mitchell Bridges, 2000). In my experience, people are much more accepting of change when hope is present. While a variety of leadership theories, styles, and perspectives exist, I believe hope forms the soul of all leadership (DePree, 1997). Leadership exists to unite people and processes for a common goal. The presence, belief, and nurturing of hope motivates, inspires, and bonds people together. Themes of hope permeated our discussion of transition and change. Hope provides motivation. Hope supports agency. Hope empowers and reminds people of the bigger picture.
On one hand, the role of leadership in transition is to create hope for others. Organizational leaders often learn of and begin to prepare for change and transition well before followers and organizational members even know about the change. Therefore, by the time organizational members start the “race” (of change or transition), many leaders are already several miles ahead. Hope should exist before the “race” begins and should guide organizational members throughout the race. Leaders can foster hope through clear transition plans, by sharing goals and outcomes, demonstrating a willingness for feedback and input, and the creation of coaches. Even with hope and understanding, coaches should exist within organizations to check in with people, gauge their feelings, and help people process their experiences (Bridges & Mitchell Bridges, 2000; DePree, 1997).
While it is the role of effective leaders to create hope, followers and members must also accept the responsibility to create their own hope. Reflect on your scope of influence and role within the transition and organization. By understanding your own roles, responsibilities, and skills, you can find areas to participate and shape the transition. It’s easy to be complacent, disgruntled, and upset with change. However, by proactively accepting, exploring, and engaging in transition, both followers and leaders can more effectively transition and support successful transitions and a sense of hope for others.
Many Student Affairs professionals enter the new academic year by creating and revisiting expectations – with colleagues, supervisors, supervisees, and students. This year, I am setting a personal expectation for hope throughout transition. I will strive to support and create hope for others and myself. As you think about your offices, organizations, and goals for the year, begin by reflecting on what gives you (and those you work with) hope. Many of us are fortunate enough to work with leaders who help us center hope, while others must create their own hope. This year, strive to be a (change and transition) coach for others. We have the ability to renew our own sense of hope and foster hope in others – both colleagues and students alike. What will you do to inspire hope this year – for yourself and others?
Bridges, W. & Mitchell Bridges, S. (2000). “Leading transition: A new model for change.” Leader to Leader, No.16. The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management.
DePree, M. (1997). Leadership Without Power. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.