Jeff Skipper’s Guide to Leading Amidst Uncertainty and Thriving Through Global Shifts

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on August 28, 2023

The pandemic was an example of how to lead change — or not. We saw leaders of some top companies successfully pivot and survive this period of upheaval and transformation, and other leaders fall short. No matter the disruption, any leader who wants to rally their team needs to know the right strategies to get people on board.

Jeff Skipper, an international change leadership consultant for organizations in energy, finance, technology, and other industries, has taken the best lessons from the pandemic for his new book, Dancing with Disruption: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation. The book reflects his long career guiding change projects by focusing on the people side of transformation.

We asked Skipper about his latest book and for tips on change leadership — as opposed to change management — and how leaders and managers can work together to overcome common obstacles to transformation.

Grit Daily: Your new book, Dancing with Disruption, has a very timely subtitle: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation. What prompted you to write this book, and why now?

Jeff Skipper: It’s incredible that Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, published in 2007, spent 36 weeks on the bestseller list, and yet all of those readers failed to build sufficient resilience to surf the disruption of the pandemic.

The reality is that disruption has become a rally cry for the successful – if you’re not creating it, you had better be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when disruption comes. And yet, so few are really ready. I wrote this book to help leaders understand how to lead through change, not follow along in the surf when the wave crashes over head.

Grit Daily: Your career focuses on dramatic change and how leaders can implement it effectively among their organizations. Why is that such a challenge for leaders?

Jeff Skipper: We like life to be predictable. It’s easier to work when we know exactly what our day is going to be like. But there has been a massive shift in our world: Change is the new normal. Steady states are rare for most organizations. Psychologically, our brains love to create order and predictability. Disorder creates stress. Change naturally introduces a level of chaos that is not easy for some leaders to embrace. It requires a change in mindset.

Grit Daily: You make a distinction in your book between change management (a buzzy term these days) and change leadership. Can you talk about the difference between managing change and leading it?

Jeff Skipper: Great question. Change management is a follower’s game. It’s a reactive attempt to mitigate the impact of change that’s been thrust upon us. Change leadership puts us out in front. This is where the shift in mindset comes in. People want good leadership. We want to be moving in a direction of our own making. Leadership enables change to have purpose.

Grit Daily: There are so many stories of how workforces changed their habits, behaviors, and schedules during the pandemic — and also stories about how some organizations were unable to get their workforces to adapt. What got in the way during the pandemic, and what role does it play in your approach to leading change?

Jeff Skipper: Fundamentally, this was about control. First of all, everyone resists being told what to do. During the pandemic, we were told to do a lot of things, often on blind faith. We gave up temporary control of our actions believing that doing so would enable a return to the way things were.

Smart organizations realized that some changes were likely to become permanent. Instead of giving up control, they took control. Mom & Pop shops that jumped into online sales and home meal kits did very well. People are now recognizing that the annual revisit of a three-year strategy is no longer sufficient. Strategy needs to be evaluated and tweaked continuously as our world changes.

Grit Daily: Let’s talk about a common obstacle to successful change in an organization. Do you think leaders have a blind spot when it comes to anticipating resistance and objections? How can leaders better handle people unwilling to follow the new direction?  

Jeff Skipper: Very few people like conflict. Most choose to be blind when it comes to resistance. When objections are unanswered and resistance unchecked, it is seen as an endorsement, and it spreads. Leaders can get in front of this by painting a vivid picture of life on the other side of change.

We all need to know that it will get better in terms of help, heart, and hope. Help speaks to ‘what’s in it for me,’ heart tells me whether the change will benefit others, such as customers and community, and hope signifies that the change will have a lasting impact in the future.

At the same time, leaders must be honest about anticipated pain and the questions that they do not yet have the answers to. A consistent cadence of open communication fosters confidence that leaders are moving employees in the right direction.

Grit Daily: Do you want to name any companies or organizations that have exemplified successful dramatic change during the pandemic? Also, do you see their success as ongoing — that they have laid a strong foundation for further change — or momentary?

Jeff Skipper: Mars has built resilience into its foundation: “The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.” That is inherently future-oriented and puts control in the hands of the organization. They are defining their direction, and they do it every day. This was not a result of the pandemic. Mars weaves empowerment and resilience into their way of working, and that’s why they continue to succeed. Developing workforce resilience is a major focus of my current work.

On a smaller scale, many musicians who could not tour used the downtime to produce more music, often with online collaborations, and ran virtual concerts. That’s innovation driven by a mindset that seeks opportunity during disruption.

Grit Daily: Is there anything you want to mention that I haven’t asked about?

Jeff Skipper: I can’t overemphasize the importance of middle management in leading successful change. There is always an executive who is accountable for new initiatives, but unless every manager below is carrying the same message, unfiltered and with the same enthusiasm, employees will doubt how important it is. If their supervisor doesn’t seem to believe in it, why should anyone else? Most organizations have no idea how to prime and align their leaders throughout the organization to lead their teams through change. It takes an investment in education about the process of change and the development of a coaching style, and it begins when leaders at the top are the first to take the class.

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By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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