The Four Pillars of Leading Positive Change
If you want to know how to lead your team to thrive in these uncertain times, the first step is to look in the mirror.
Publish Date: March 19, 2022
Dr. Jermaine M. Davis
Dr. Jermaine M. Davis | Award-Winning Professor, Author & Filmmaker

How a leader conveys change is one of the biggest influences in how team members respond, says Jermaine Davis, PhD, a professor of Communication Studies and Organizational Leadership at Century College and St. Catherine University in Minnesota, who is presenting a keynote to the Leadership Summit today.

When we ask people to start or stop doing something, they can choose to resist, comply or commit. Leaders can inspire team members to commit to change with a positive attitude, which impacts your work environment and patient outcomes.

To lead the way of positive change, Davis recommends that you

  1. Understand your leadership style and how to use your traits for the best outcomes
  2. Account for psychological noise
  3. Lean into facilitative emotions and minimize debilitative emotions
  4. Build synergy around your organization’s and department’s purpose, vision and goals

These four pillars are the foundation for leaders who want to improve team performance and retention during uncertain times.

Understanding Your Leadership Style

Which most closely describes your leadership style:

  • I primarily focus on my team’s goals and deliverables. When I talk to my team members, I make sure they know what we need to get done.
  • I primarily focus on creating relationships and an environment where my team members can do their best work. When I meet with my team members, I ask how they are doing and how I can remove obstacles for them.

If the first one resonates with you, you’re what Dr. Jermaine Davis calls a Task-Based Leader (TBL). If you identify with the second one, Davis designates you as a Relationship-Based Leader (RBL). 


Both TBLs and RBLs have advantages as well as some pitfalls, especially when dealing with uncertainty and change.

TBLs tend to be very clear about outcomes and expectations, which can be motivating for team members who appreciate completing tasks. On the flip side, they can come across as cool and impersonal, and some team members may respond by doing just enough to get by.

RBLs build trust through relationships and empowering team members. While they aim to help the team thrive individually and synergistically, directions may seem less clear or certain.

Davis suggests having an accountability partner who can help you see your blind spots and hiring people who have a different style to balance your natural tendency.

Accounting for Psychological Noise

Psychological noise, which is stimuli that causes people to become preoccupied and prevents them from being fully engaged in their work, is unavoidable, Davis acknowledges. Events of the past two years have increased the volume of psychological noise to new levels.

Psychological noise leads to more errors because attention is diverted. Allowing people to vent their emotions gives you an opportunity to help people focus on processing them and moving forward with clearer heads. Doing this well is all about the set-up, he adds:

  1. Acknowledge what is going on.
  2. Reassure team members that you want to hear their fears and concerns.
  3. Establish that the focus will be on controlling what is controllable and finding solutions.

Dealing with debilitative emotions and facilitative emotions

As a leader, being aware of your own emotional state will help you prepare for change. Davis helps leaders understand the difference between debilitative and facilitative emotions.

Debilitative emotions prevent you from moving forward. Staying in a state of frustration, anger and resentment can keep you stuck and unable to seek solutions. When these feelings arise, acknowledge them and then refocus your energy on facilitative emotions.

Facilitative emotions help you put the situation in perspective and take steps toward improvement. They include creativity, problem solving and courage. They allow you to be open and honest in the spirit of a better outcome.

Building synergy around your PVG

When stress levels and emotions are high, it’s easy to focus on “doing what I do” and forget about why it’s important. Yet it’s critical to remind team members of the Purpose, Vision and Goals (PVG) to build community and synergy for positive change.

Consistently refreshing and revisiting the PVGs gives team members a positive and hopeful connection to their daily work. They’re an anchor in the storm, and as a leader you can reconnect team members to their own why.

These four pillars support building the trust and clarity that help team members manage change effectively. Whether it’s a change of personnel, processes or external factors, your leadership skills can make a difference in the outcome.