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How to Lead Through Sudden and Unexpected Change


The Art of Leadership Newsletter

Here we are on the threshold of not only a new year but also a new decade. Looking over the horizon, all the indications are that for any leader, the rate of change will continue apace. But what we’ve seen this year more than ever is that for some leaders, that change won’t always be incremental. Sometimes it’s sudden and unexpected. In this month’s blog we provide practical tips on how to lead through those scenarios successfully.  

We are delighted to be moving into 2020 welcoming the following new coaches and mentors to our team; Murray Bell, Mark Devadason, Ian Morrice, and Robyn Stubbs. Below we share some personal insights to help you get to know each of them better.

As the countdown to the end of year break fast approaches, it is important to remember to set time aside to rest and recharge, ready for the year ahead. We wish you all a safe and relaxing break with your family and friends. We hope that you start the New Year revived and refreshed, and we look forward to working with you in 2020.

Seasons Greetings



Founding Partner

How to Lead Through Sudden and Unexpected Change

Change is constant, but sometimes change is so sudden, so extreme, that our normal ability to adapt is overwhelmed. A company failure or takeover, a corporate scandal or radical restructure, can put extraordinary pressure on staff. And in such times of stress, managers need to find new, different ways to lead.

This can be challenging for many leaders, who may have been appointed due to their technical skills and their ability to manage operations and hit targets. But managing a team through dramatic change calls for different qualities, such as humanity and compassion, plus empathy, open communication and the ability to see different points of view.

Difficult as this may be, failing to manage change can have major consequences. People who are not supported through the process might suppress them for a while, but their feelings will eventually emerge as anger and blame, or even anxiety and depression.

Our response to disruptive change has much in common with grieving for the loss of a loved one. The Swiss-American psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross did pioneering research into the stages of grief, then expanded her model, the Change Curve, to show how people typically respond to any life-changing situation.

When crisis hits, we react first with “denial” and “resistance”, then move through “exploration” until we achieve “commitment”. In a corporate setting, it is part of a leader’s job to help staff move through the stages of the curve, so that everyone can ultimately find acceptance and renewed strength to move forward.

Here are some simple steps to lead their people through the difficult times:

Allow your emotions to show

Give yourself space to come to terms with your own feelings. It is normal to feel shocked, disappointed and angry when your organisation doesn’t behave as it should. If your emotions are hindering you in your work or interfering with your personal life, don’t hesitate to seek help.

Be open & honest

Be open and honest about what has happened. Don’t try to deny, gloss over or downplay a negative event. Your people need to know you are facing the facts so they can too.

Show vulnerability

Be authentic about your own feelings, and don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability. This validates those emotions and reassures your people that you understand what they are going through. By creating psychological safety in this way, you are giving your team permission to open up.

Empathy is key

Acknowledge and normalise the feelings that others express to you. Be prepared to say: “Yes, it has come as a shock to all of us, and we understand how tense and horrible it is, but what can we do to help you get through today and the rest of the week?”

Celebrate the good

Celebrate the good things that are happening, as well as honestly acknowledging the bad. Look for positive things that everyone can hold on to and talk about, such as the active response the leaders are taking to preserve the organisation.

Set short-term goals

Focus on short-term goals and recent successes. The big picture might be disorienting, but there are sure to be some smaller, positive things that can be celebrated, both as concrete achievements and symbols of what can happen in the future.

Set up regular check-ins

Set up regular check-ins. Assign people to lead “huddles” or “pods” of four to six people, where individuals can express their true feelings in a confidential and psychologically safe environment. Don’t wait for your staff to come to you – set up a structure that makes these discussions a normal part of the working day and signals it’s acceptable to have and to name those negative feelings.

A crisis is not business as usual, and it requires more than a BAU approach to management. While the demands may seem overwhelming, it is possible to follow the Change Curve and come out the other end, with renewed commitment from everyone in the team. If you feel under-equipped for the challenge, don’t hesitate to seek advice. And remember that at every stage of the journey, the key to success is honest, open and transparent communication.

About the Author:

Virginia Mansell, Founding Partner

As Founding Partner of Stephenson Mansell Group, Virginia has over 30 years experience as an organisational consultant, executive coach and leadership development facilitator, working across all industries with Board Directors & executives.



What’s On

Registrations Now Open: 2020 Public Program Calendar

We are pleased to announce that registrations are now available online for our 2020 programs (with more being added throughout the year).

Follow the links below to view what’s coming up in your local area.

Sydney Events          Brisbane Events         Melbourne Events



Back in 2020 by popular demand –
Executive Presence and Impact Workshop with Peter Kingston

CoachLogix data indicates developing executive presence as a consistent goal in many of the coaching engagements across the past 6 months.

Back by popular demand – we now have registrations open for Peter Kingston’s Executive Presence and Impact Program in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Peter’s ability to engage with his audience and personally encourage participants to step out of their comfort-zone & challenge the way they present themselves, makes this a program not-to-be-missed.

SYDNEY: Executive Presence and Impact Masterclass, 27th February 2020
BRISBANEExecutive Presence and Impact Workshop, 2nd April 2020
MELBOURNE: Executive Presence and Impact Workshop, 28th May 2020

Missed out on downloading our “Coaching Maturity in Organisations. What works and why” research Executive Summary?

Authored by Dr Be Pannell, our research sets out to determine how organisations can go from good to great in their approach to coaching maturity so that they can deliver on their performance goals.


Christmas Office Closure

The SMG Offices will be closed from Monday 23rd December 2019, reopening on Monday 6th January 2020.

We wish you all a safe and happy holiday and look forward to working with you in the new year.


Meet Our Team

With an impressive range of experience and industry expertise, we are delighted to welcome the following new coaches and mentors to our SMG community; Murray Bell, Mark Devadason, Ian Morrice, and Robyn Stubbs. Below we share some personal insights to help you get to know each of them better.

Murray Bell

Tell me how you first became involved in the coaching/mentoring space? Hands on experience working in large listed and privately-owned commercial property groups. Living in 5 countries working in cultures with diverse levels of education resulted in leading, managing, coaching and mentoring being integral to my role and the objectives of the business.

What has surprised you most about working as a coach/mentor? Clarity & joy an unconditional non judging listening ear can bring to someone.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about starting a coaching or mentoring program? Allow yourself to trust and be vulnerable as you explore all the doors & windows along the way as you unlock your career & personal potential.

Where will we find you on your days off? On the tennis court, laughing with my daughters or heading bush … back to my cattle property roots near Toowoomba in Qld.

Mark Devadason

Tell me a little about the industries and/or areas you specialise in? I have enjoyed a relatively diverse banking career both geographically and through experience of many disciplines within banking including corporate banking , private banking, training , corporate affairs,  sustainability and 8 years of country CEO experience. More recently I have been more focused on working with people, civil society and companies embracing balance and purpose as they look to build sustainability robust strategies.

What are some of your passions outside of the office?   I fill my life outside of work with a number of interests. People are living longer and it’s importance to be fit for a longer life and to be able to manage the stresses of a complex world. I enjoy participating in a number of sports including golf, skiing and tennis and as I write this I’m engaged on a 10 day cycle challenge riding 600kms from Siem Reap to Saigon raising money for a charity I chair. I’m also a passionate photographer, collect art and enjoy wine.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?  That I have a father of Sri Lankan heritage, an English mother, an Australian wife of Irish ancestry and a daughter born in Hong Kong and a son born in Singapore.

Where will we find you on your days off? Either enjoying the Northern Beaches, golf or tennis or travelling to engage in activities supporting a Foundation I chair or speaking regionally on behalf of an anti-slavery NGO.

The greatest lesson I learned… during my long corporate career was to always have more than one mentor or corporate advocate and that successful people are not just people who simply network well but people who build and nurture networks.

Ian Morrice

Ian is a very experienced Chief Executive with over 12 years leading large scale, listed groups with significant complexity in the highly competitive retail and consumer goods sectors. Ian most recently served as Group Chief Executive Officer of Metcash Limited, Australia’s leading Wholesaler, a diverse group with annual revenues in excess of A$14bn.

Prior to moving to Australasia, Ian had over 20 years in senior management roles in the UK in multiple retail sectors and financial services.

Whilst he has led businesses through significant growth periods, he is no stranger to adversity, disruption and turnarounds.

Ian has broad Board experience both as an Executive and Non-Executive Director. He understands the importance of Board and Executive team dynamics and stakeholder management.

Outside of the office, Ian enjoys family time, active sports, music & travel.

Robyn Stubbs:

Tell me a little about the industries and/or areas you specialise in?  After a 25+ year executive career, mainly in the property and media sectors (and earlier in fast moving consumer goods), I now sit on 3 x ASX- listed company Boards as an independent Non-Executive Director, along with coaching and mentoring at SMG.  I find there’s a lovely synergy in drawing on my Board perspective, executive perspective and coaching experience.

Tell me how you first became involved in the coaching/mentoring space? Just after the GFC in 2008 there was a major organisational restructure at Stockland, where I worked as a General Manager.  My remit was dramatically broadened overnight with new and significant P&L accountability, as well as leadership of a team of 400+ people located around the country.   The Board and Executive Committee wanted to set me up for success and so invested in a highly regarded Executive Coach who I worked with over the next 2 years.  This experience had a very positive impact on my capacity to work with uncertainty and manage stress  Coaching improved my professional and personal life to the extent that it motivated me to become a coach myself some years later, when I enrolled at The University of Sydney to do my Master of Science in Coaching Psychology.  As fate would have it, my former coach became my new boss and I spent five years coaching a range of clients across the commercial, government, academic and not-for-profit sectors.  I’ve recently joined SMG and look forward to working with new clients in the year ahead.

My greatest inspiration is… music and my son.

The greatest lesson I learned… was how not to play a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.  Turns out I was destined to be a devoted fan rather than rock star.  I learned that after my 10th one-on-one session with my poor tortured teacher.  He didn’t have the heart to crush my dream!

SMG Recommends

This month’s recommendations come from Bill Gates…

Teachers need real feedback- TedX – Bill Gates
“Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player.”

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates – Netflix
Take a trip inside the mind of Bill Gates as the billionaire opens up about those who influenced him and the audacious goals he’s still pursuing.


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