Imagine yourself sitting around the leadership table, discussing why such a small change (insert any change here) feels like such a huge change to your team. Why are they not seeing the benefits that are so apparent to you? Why are they not just accepting and moving forward the way you are? Leaders are often flabbergasted at the reaction they get to change and I have personally witnessed many leadership teams having these exact dialogues.

What leaders all too often forget is the time it took them to understand and internalize a change. It is typical for a leader to have access to information and advanced notice of pending changes. Leadership teams will debate, review and discuss upcoming changes, allowing them to move effectively through awareness to commitment to action.

Change Continiuum

These leaders then turn to their employees and ‘roll-out’ the change, expecting these employees to be in the same state of readiness as they now are. They forget about the time they spent on the change journey themselves. William Bridges dubs this phenomenon the Marathon Effect.

“The front runners (in a marathon) take off like rabbits, then the second rank (who are a little slower) start running, and then the middle ranks get under way. By the time the leaders are well out on the course the Sunday runners in the rear, are just beginning to stir.”  

William Bridges, Managing Transitions, 2009

Leadership arrives at action, and are ready for the next “event” before some employees even get their feet moving in the right direction. The result of the Marathon Effect is greater resistance, additional stress and potentially incomplete change, as leaders move on too quickly, leaving their employees behind.

So what can you as a leader do to mitigate the Marathon effect? There are 4 easy steps to keep you and your team in the same race.

1. Find the Time to Reflect

Acknowledge you went through your own learning with regards to the change. You need to keep this top of mind and help others embrace the journey. Keep a journal during significant change that will allow you to reconnect with how you felt along the way. This will enable you so see and accept that journey in others.

2. Take the Time to Listen 

Don’t shy away from employee discussions regarding the change. Talking through the change will help reduce resistance. Your role is to listen, emphasize, share your experiences and let employees feel like they have been heard. You may not have all the answers but at least you can get all the questions on the table. Trying to avoid what some leaders deem to be “complaint sessions” only drives the dialogue underground, leaving you in the race on your own.

3. Make the Time To Engage 

Engage your employees in the change agenda. You don’t need to have all the answers; you can ask your employees.  Talking the time to brainstorm and explore options, even on the smallest aspect of a change can increase commitment and lead to quicker adoption. Find the right topic to carve out participation and make it happen. This will allow you to quickly mobilize those Sunday runners and get everyone moving in the same direction.

4. Give the Time to Adjust 

Just like a marathon, everyone will arrive at the destination at different times. As a leader you need to know that is ok.  Change is a personal journey. As long as your team is actually in the race and heading in the right direction you will be able to move them through commitment to action. You cannot force someone to adapt but you can provide the time and tools to get them there.

If you want to win in this fast changing world you can`t be the only one at the race. Those leaders who plan for and mitigate the Marathon Effect will get more employees across that magical finish line, and ready for the next challenge. What leader wouldn’t want that?

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