Leadership Spotlight

Leadership During Change

Employees meet with their corporate leader to be led in a leadership capacity.


Law enforcement agencies undergo structural changes in different degrees, often as a result of new demands or challenges. In most cases, reorganization aims to improve overall performance. The road getting there can be bumpy, and a department and its personnel may face many pitfalls and problems.

Effectively managing transition places extra demands on leaders, who should take time to reflect on the situation. As a leader, you have important tasks to address during change.

Lead Yourself

Many employees feel anxiety when not knowing what will happen in times of transition. In the worst cases, they could become unemployed. Even you may not know if you will keep your job. Everyone looks for answers not yet available.

You must listen to your personnel and ensure them that you understand. While answers to their questions may remain unavailable, time will reveal them. Even more important, you need to show employees that you stand beside them. As a leader, you have an obligation to both your agency and your personnel to see the ongoing transition through.

During change, your role involves accommodating employees’ anxiety and confusion. Certainly, you may share the worries of your personnel, and you should discuss your own insecurity, uncertainty, and apprehension. However, you must find the courage to overcome such concerns to continue leading. Without courage, there is no leadership. Without leadership, there is no change.

Recognize the Four Stages of Change

Confusion is common during transition because change is difficult. When many people become involved, trials will occur. During such times, employees typically go through four stages.

  1. Satisfaction: In the beginning, many personnel are glad and expectant. They look forward to what will happen and may have received a description about the positive results to come. They have high expectations.
  2. Denial: “This will not affect me!” In this stage, employees try to hide from the fact that some things will change. They find like-minded friends and talk negatively about the transition. Personnel may see more difficulties than opportunities.
  3. Confusion: At this point, employees worry about their jobs. “Can I keep my job? Will I do the same things I did before?” They do not know whom their new boss is or whom they will work with. The organization’s strategies and objectives may have changed, and personnel feel unsure about how they will accomplish tasks in the future.
  4. Regeneration: Employees decide to make the most of the situation. In other words, they have accepted the new agency at some level. They even set new objectives for themselves and the department. They may try to negotiate “What’s in it for me?”

As a leader during significant change, you must recognize which stage your employees are in. Supporting them in the best way possible proves essential. You need to communicate with personnel and remain available.

Demonstrate Sincere Empathy

During transition employees value information. Leaders need to apprise them of changes occurring throughout the process. Thus, your ability to communicate information reliably proves important for making personnel feel secure in times of change.

There may be more questions than answers. You should ensure that employees feel comfortable coming to you with inquiries, even those pertaining to seemingly unimportant matters. At times, personnel may be in the confusion phase and ask questions that have unclear answers.

During parts of the transition, not everything is clear. Employees may feel disappointed, disenchanted, and perhaps angry. As a leader, you should take time to guide personnel so they can find answers for themselves.

Focus on What Is Important

You must take responsibility, show courage, and lead employees in the “new” agency. This involves focusing on what the department holds important, even in reorganization. To become quiet and complacent and think only about what is happening in your own agency may result in an inability to serve citizens in the best way.

Leading effectively involves working with personnel to explain change and make it manageable and meaningful. Regular meetings should occur at every level of the department and allow personnel to submit comments and suggestions for improvement. You should repeat why the organization must change. Further, you must share the long-term perspectives and emphasize that it takes time to implement reorganization.

Agencies must have a plan for the reorganization that answers several questions. Who is responsible for what? How should the different units collaborate? What competencies are needed? How will the department communicate internally and externally about the change? The plan must give everyone involved the support and predictability they require. As a leader, if you help personnel prioritize based on what is important, your employees’ support of the change will increase.


Changes occur in every agency. As a leader, you must address them quickly, clearly, and regularly. You must lead yourself, understand the stages of change, demonstrate sincere empathy for everyone involved, and focus on what the organization needs to become more successful. Any positive changes will help members of the department move in the same direction. When employees see that the transition makes a desirable difference, they will help develop the organization even more.

Chief Superintendent Fredrik K. Persson with the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation in Stockholm wrote this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at fredrik-k.persson@polisen.se.