Leading Your Community Through Transition

However you look at it, the next decade will be marked by change and challenges that will test your ability to lead economic growth and prosperity for your community, region or state.

As is typical after the turn of a new year, there are a number of prognostications about what the future holds. At breakfast I was reading an article in USA Today that top lined key predictions from a CBS Report entitled “Where America Stands”.

Another article in the same paper really drove the point that we are facing a critical decade of transition home for me. The author claimed that in 2009 state leaders have made the “easy” cuts in budget and will need to tighten belts further in 2010 in order to address budget shortfalls. In fact, the prediction was that this situation would likely not ease up before 2012.

Intellectually I understand the authors point. Emotionally, I have trouble seeing how an effective economic development effort can be run for a community, region or state with further and deeper budget cuts. The truth is, you can’t if you hold onto past practices. You need to make and ending so you enter the neutral zone and have a shot at reaching a new beginning that will set your community, region or state economic development efforts up for success.

The big take-away for me was that Brand America will continue to be relevant and the effectiveness of economic development will be directly related to the ability of public and private sector leadership to lead in a period of significant transition.

Leading through transition is a particularly challenging task and, based on my experience, requires a unique skill set to do it well. Great leaders in calm and predictable periods of growth are not necessarily effective in periods of chaos when history is no longer a reliable indicator of expected outcome for a decision. The skills for success are not identical.

As an economic development professional you will have a unique role to play in helping lead your community, region or state through these uncertain times. How well you play your role can contribute to the success (or failure) of your economic growth plans. To help you better understand what the skills for success are, I suggest taking a look at the three-step Bridges Model for leading in periods of transition.

William Bridges is an expert in organizational change management. His book “Managing Transitions” is an easy read and a good guide. I would also encourage you to download his free paper entitled “Getting Them Through The Wilderness”. Since everybody likes quick reads, here are two additional general discussions of the Bridges model you may find helpful to better understand the unique leadership challenges of this new decade.



I think, one of the more liberating quotes for economic development professionals from the “Managing Transitions” book is –

“The key…is to look at the neutral zone as a chance to do something new and interesting–and to pursue that goal with energy and courage.”

I strongly suspect we all need to find new ways to win in today’s interdependent global economy.

Understanding the process of transition and how to facilitate it will help you prepare your community, region or state for economic success. You will learn about techniques needed to guide public and private sector leadership through the neutral zone where chaos and fear of loss reign. The Bridges model will help you be better prepared to create an effective economic development strategy that doesn’t cling to the past, but rather embraces the new reality and has a higher probability of success.

For perspective, the Bridges model is not new to most large company HR leaders. In fact, many will have internal experts on transition leadership. If, after reading a bit about William Bridges work, you feel this is an area the your community, region or state economic development plans could benefit from better understanding, you may want to consider reaching out to one of your business partners and seek in-kind support from their HR Director. Chances are they will have a training module already available that can be used to sensitize your EDO leadership to the challenges you will face in building an effective economic development plan for this new decade.

I would appreciate it if you’d share your experience or thoughts about leading through transition by leaving a comment to this post
. Your comments help enrich everybody’s understanding by providing important context to the discussion. Thank you in advance for contributing.

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