Pick 1 Word That Describes How You’re Feeling Today

By John Pearson

“Every Organization Needs a Red Sea”

During these COVID-19 days, thoughtful leaders will frequently take their team’s temperature. How are your board members and your staff members (and your clients and givers) handling the emotional trauma of these dramatic changes?

Yet in the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” (Read my review.)

“Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

Try this on your next Zoom call. Ask board members to pick one major change the organization has negotiated and then pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition:
• Ending
• Neutral Zone
• New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. So ask your board members to reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and then pinpoint where they are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.

NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.

NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program suspensions or cancellations, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the article on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. The author believes that “Every organization needs a red sea.” Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh ?nally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and the givers you serve?

MORE RESOURCES: Reflect on Reid Lehman’s guest blog, “Serve with Humility and Experience God’s Presence,” which notes that board leadership is a team sport. It’s one of 40 color commentaries from the book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Lehman quotes Andrew Murray, “Humility before people is the only real proof that our humility before God is more than just a figment of our imagination.” Click here.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.