The Head and Heart of Leading Change
Though I like to think of myself as someone who uses both sides of his brain, my job as an Executive Pastor overstimulated my left brain, the seat of analytical thinking and logic. Without consistent monitoring I found my right brain, where feelings and emotions reside, would atrophy.
Fortunately, I had a Senior Pastor with a right brain orientation who consistently reminded me of the need to support my left brain head oriented facts and figures with language that spoke to people’s hearts and emotions as well.
Just as the left and right sides of the brain are distinct yet interdependent, the head and heart operate similarly.
Scripture acknowledges this separate yet interdependent nature of the head and heart in Psalm 7:9 and 26:2. In Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul prays that Christ will dwell in the hearts and minds of believers.
God fashioned both as portals of communication and understanding and to lead change effectively both must be engaged.
Head and Heart Definitions
Head: The place where concrete facts, ideas, concepts and information are cognitively received and stored. The head requires communication that is logical, quantitative and practical.
Heart: The place where sensory impressions, symbols, stories and metaphors stimulate emotions. The heart longs for communion, to be touched in a deep way and to create an intimate bond with the speaker.
Unfortunately, people’s heads usually start nodding yes before their hearts agree. If a leader proceeds with change based only on bobbing heads they may discover no one is following.
The Heart of Change
In 1996 John Kotter released his groundbreaking book Leading Change, where he presented a clear, rational eight-step process for leading effective change.
Five years later a sequel, The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories of How People Change Their Organization, was released.
Kotter discovered in subsequent studies that most successful organizational change initiatives involved right brain “feeling” communication as well.
In the introduction Kotter writes, “Our main finding, put simply, is that the central issue in leading change is never strategy, structure, culture or systems……..The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.”
Kotter explains, “People change what they do less because they are given facts and analysis that shifts their thinking (head) than because they are shown a truth or insight that influences their feelings (heart).
Kotter argues effective change leadership is driven by facts, figures and logic but also addresses the emotional and fearful side of change.
In his excellent book, In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership, Mike Bonem shares a story of a church wrestling with whether to make several changes to reach a younger generation. The pastor had plenty of facts to support the proposed changes, but few leaders were motivated.
The turning point was when one of the matriarchs shared her anguish caused by her 25 year old grandson who was far from God. She concluded by saying, “I’d give anything for a church that would reach out to him. And I think we need to be that church for someone else’s grandson.” Her story touched hearts in ways that facts couldn’t do and opened the church to embrace change.
Clearly, enduring change requires touching both the head and the hearts of those being asked to change.
But wise church leaders remember no matter how compelling the logic for change may be, a person’s choice to embrace change is at its core an emotional decision.
Posted on September 30, 2014