On Leading Through Change

While this will not be the only post I write on this topic, I had a unique experience to put my theories and study and passion into practice this weekend. Now, this requires a bit of back story on your author, so I’ll start there. 

I have been a participant in a medieval recreation society since I was 2 years old. My mother played in the society and took me with her my entire childhood. I was raised spending 1-3 weekends of every month in this group. This society is entirely volunteer run, which means that successful events rely on trustworthy, hard-working, passionate volunteers. It also means that, anyone running these events has to lead through change.

Volunteers are amazing people, invaluable to any non-profit organizations, but they’re unpaid status means that paid work, lack of money to spend the weekend away from home, and a million other things, are more likely to interfere with their ability to show up. Some call when this happens, some don’t. 

The second piece of information you need is that I’ve been second-in-command of the kitchen at a particular event for many years. This year was the first time I have stepped into the Kitchen Manager position, putting me in charge of a core crew of 9 people, with 3 others filling in where needed when they were not working elsewhere. Together, we spent 4 days feeding 90 people. If those people ate or drank anything, it was prepared in our kitchen. 

9-12 people is not many, and when you’re feeding that many people everything they consume from sunup to sundown, it requires careful consideration of schedules, energy levels, and very intentional shift overlaps to have enough people in the kitchen at any given time. 

This weekend, one of those people did not show up. No call. Nothing. Just never arrived. They happened to be the person with the single most physically demanding job in the whole kitchen. 

Suddenly, I had to adapt and encourage everyone else to adapt successfully to a hole in our crew that needed to be filled. My carefully planned shifts and breaks were suddenly inadequate because the amount of work everyone would be putting in was greatly increased. 

What I did was successful, I believe, so I’d like to share the experience with you.

First, I recognized the problem and the worry of the rest of the crew, validating their feelings. I expressed my understanding and empathy. While each of us needed to pitch in to get the work done, I was sure to encourage them to ask for breaks when needed since the work would be much more physical than any of them expected. I expressed my absolute confidence in our ability to perform and carried on.

I think part of why this was successful is that I made sure not to dwell on it. I was confident in the ability of my crew and I made the necessary changes to task breakdowns to make up for the missing person. Once the changes were in place, there was no reason to focus on it. I simply proceeded as if everything was fine, because it was.

By maintaining the expectation that we could handle this, expressing confidence and support, and staying positive, we were able to navigate the challenge presented.

What are your experiences with leading through change? If you have any stories or tips to share, leave a comment below!