Anticipating and leading change isn’t a new concept for most leaders. For decades now, John Kotter’s work has encouraged leaders to lead organizations through increasingly rapid changes. We know it’s our role as leaders to anticipate the future and help our teams navigate through change. However, if we’ve learned anything from 2020, we know that anticipating change can feel nearly impossible at times.

When we experience extreme periods of constant change and uncertainty our confidence in our ability to correctly anticipate the future decreases. We may correctly prepare for one scenario, while completely missing the mark on another. Even if we are at our best, we don’t have a crystal ball revealing the future. We won’t be right every time, and even if we are on the right track, we may still need to adjust. The key for leaders who want to guide their teams confidently through intense change is to let go of perfect.


We got over perfect, we didn’t have time to waste, we couldn’t figure out what-if. We just said we are going to start. We are going to do it and tomorrow we might have to make a change. It might be a big one or a little one, but we were focused on keeping our students learning, keeping our people safe. We were doing the right work.

– Sue Lee, Improvement Coach at School District of Menomonee Falls | AYP episode 158: Listen to People to Continuously Improve

During their recent interviews, three leaders at the School District of Menomonee Falls explained that letting go of perfect has been critical in supporting their teams through change. To lead effectively through challenge, the best leaders accept they aren’t able to predict everything. Despite this fact, leaders can make difficult decisions with confidence. Employees aren’t counting on leaders to always get it right. Employees are counting on leaders to communicate, remain consistent and continue leading no matter what.

To remain agile through disruption the Director of Teaching and Learning, Casey Blochowiak, explains, We utilized our aligned behaviors, our guiding principles and our relentless commitment to the pursuit of excellence… all of those things were just hardwired to our work and so critical to what we believe has been our successful response to our students at this time.” In times of uncertainty, return to your values or principles to guide decisions. This familiar language keeps the team aligned to our most important work.

While letting go of perfect and leaning on values, don’t be afraid to be real with employees. Face the brutal facts of the situation and be honest about how you feel. Doing so builds trust and encourages people to have a solutions-focused conversation based on reality. When leaders are ready to take these conversations to the next level, we recommend engaging teams in the act of high-level scenario thinking.


Scenario planning helps your teams think beyond one response. What options can we consider? What will the future look like? How will we need to change our current ways? What is the best option based on what we are facing right now?

Scenario planning includes four areas for leaders and teams to discuss:

  1. What are the driving forces for change? What shifts have occurred and how will they affect us?
  2. What are the two or three most critical uncertainties or driving forces?
  3. What are the possible scenarios these uncertainties present?
  4. Discuss the pros, cons and implications of each.

During this process, we identify a set of uncertainties and determine how the uncertainties might affect our organizations or environments. Leaders encourage teams and individuals to challenge their normal ways of thinking. All the scenarios shouldn’t land in the same ballpark. To completely prepare for uncertainty we need to be aware of groupthink and stability bias. As humans, we tend to think the future will look something like the past. We are less prone to depart from the status quo. Our goal is to guide our teams to challenge their assumptions and think in terms of all possibilities. Avoid focusing solely on only the first few scenarios or what seems most likely to happen.



We had that consistent messaging that really made the difference because I knew that we were all on the same page in the same direction. That really empowered us with the safety net to do and try hard things. We were in a position to do things we had never done in ways that we had never even thought that we could.

– Sue Lee | AYP episode 158: Listen to People to Continuously Improve

People want to hear from leaders – even if the message changes from week to week. Frequent communication calms employee anxiety and focuses people in one direction. In the absence of communication, we are left to assume or speculate instead. Leaders who navigate change successfully rely on establishing a consistent cadence of messages to their teams. Using the why-what-how sequence, we capture people’s attention and commitment. Also, remember communication is a two-way street. Soliciting feedback from all stakeholders will help best prepare teams to anticipate change.


To motivate employees, leaders tend to their emotional needs in the workplace before focusing on the next steps. We tend to emotional needs when we create a place where people can be themselves at work. Connection and trust are formed across teams as we get to know people personally. In addition, leaders build emotional bank accounts when they empower people to own their work. Ask individuals who are closest to the change or problems what solutions they recommend. Specifically, recognize and reward people so they know they are appreciated. When employee’s emotional needs are met, we can better focus on the difficult challenges ahead.


We are solution-focused. We talk a lot about what is the problem, how big is the problem, what solutions do we have? And then, let’s just try it. We have to get over being perfect to focus on getting better. What is that one step that we can take? How can we continue to remove those roadblocks so we can be successful?

– Tina Posnanski, Principal, Valley View Elementary School | AYP episode 158: Listen to People to Continuously Improve

Imagine an organization where every employee approaches work with curiosity and a desire to improve for the sake of those they serve. Fostering an organization-wide improvement mindset pays dividends for leaders. When we prioritize progress over perfection, we don’t have to be ashamed of failure. Instead, we can learn from it and push our teams forward.

The amount of change and uncertainty we experienced in 2020 was extreme. It’s hard to say how likely it is that we will have a similar period again in our lifetimes. However, we can say with certainty, leaders will still get it wrong at times. Correctly anticipating the future is a guessing game; we can only do our best. The more leaders communicate, empower their teams and challenge the status quo, the more likely we are to be successful.

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