If you’re serious about leadership, you probably experiment with new ideas and approaches. This may include you trying different ways of communicating, improving processes, or adapting your management style. Although these efforts are noble and courageous, many of the leaders I’ve worked with often overlook one key element: sharing the “why” behind the change.

For example:

  • A manager with a tendency to micromanage decided to try being more hands-off, which her team mistook as being fed up and giving up on them
  • An employee wanted to improve their listening by using paraphrasing techniques they learned at a recent training, which came across as manipulative
  • An executive proposed a policy requiring compliance around documenting work hours because of severe violations that nearly resulted in huge fines, which everyone saw as yet another way they were being treated like children

Why Share the Why?

As you can see in the above examples, when we don’t share the context behind a change people will typically fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, people tend to assume the worst, so those blanks are likely to be filled in with negative assumptions and stories. This undermines the changes we are trying to make, which are likely rooted in good intentions. Therefore, when making any change, it’s crucial to share the “why” to avoid these misunderstandings.

Sharing the “Why” Can Be Simple

When sharing the why, we don’t need to create a long story. A short, simple explanation is all that you need. Let’s revisit the examples above with what the clients did, which made all the difference in how the change efforts were received:

  • The manager who wanted to try being more hands-off said to their team, “I know you’ve been frustrated by my getting too in the weeds with you, so I’m working on being more hands-off. However, please come to me if you need anything.”
  • The employee who wanted to improve their listening by paraphrasing told colleagues, “I’m trying to be a better listener and practice paraphrasing. Do you mind if I try practicing it with you to make sure that I’ve accurately heard what you said?”
  • The executive who proposed the policy around documenting work hours sent out a company-wide memo saying, “We’ve recently had serious issues violations around timekeeping that could jeopardize our company’s future. Unfortunately, we needed to take some drastic measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I’d appreciate your help in complying for the sake of our company’s success. If you have any concerns about this, please speak to your manager.”

A Little Context Goes a Long Way

As you can see, a little context goes a long way. You only need to share enough so people have a sense of where you’re coming from. Most of the time, they’ll appreciate your efforts to improve, especially if it might benefit them. When making any change, no matter how small, consider how you can share the “why” and which people would benefit from hearing it. If anything, err on the side of over-sharing and remember that you can always ask for feedback around how the change is impacting others (for better or worse).