Change: Do You Cope With It, Deal With It Or Use It As A Growth Opportunity?


How do you see change?

Some people cope with change, like it’s a disease. Some deal with change as if it’s a necessary evil. Some embrace change, seeing it for the possibilities it brings. And some of us, by virtue of our circumstances, actually develop a talent for ensuring that change results in evolution, taking an organization to the next step. Scott Halliday is wrapping up an almost four-year stint as the Chairman & Area Managing Partner for Japan for EY, the global audit, tax, transaction and consulting firm. A Californian by birth, Halliday’s 38-year career with the firm has landed him in leadership roles in two regions in the U.S., in the U.K., and most recently in Tokyo. In each area, his mandate wasn’t to be ready for change, but to propel it, and to do so mindful of cultural differences, the EY brand and his own personal ethos of leadership. He shared his top three strategies for leading a successful team through major changes. Each piece of advice resonates in the unique setting of a global organization, and in the broader context of our lives.

1. Surround yourself with good people you can trust.

According to Halliday, leadership is a team activity. You’re only as good as the people around you. Your job is to help them be the best they can be. He has two strategic questions for those who work under him.

First, he asks, “What are the three skills you are working on for self-improvement?” Halliday said,

“This question helps me understand how self-aware the person is. We all have skills, approaches and attitudes we can work on. I want to be working with people who are constantly trying to improve their performance.”

Second, he asks, “What challenges have you had to overcome?” Sometimes this means more broadly in life, and sometimes it means in the last week or so.

“Life is short and we all have a lot to get done. I find it most helpful to work with people who have energy and enthusiasm. People who can identify challenges they have faced and how they have overcome those headwinds are the ones most likely to show up at work with a can-do spirit. When setbacks occur, which they frequently do in business and life, I want team members who can wake up in the morning with a renewed sense of energy to carry on.”

He added,

“It’s not just about getting tasks done. It’s about building relationships. If they can come at a conversation from a personal perspective, being genuine, you can build trust, which is so important no matter how large your organization. If people know you care about them, they will follow you. And you have to really care, not just go through the motions. If you’re genuine in your caring, your people will make the extra effort for you.”

2. Don’t let yourself get down, particularly if you have a major setback.

I must admit, to me this sounds challenging. Halliday’s advice, “Take the approach, ‘This too shall pass.’” He suggests,

“It takes humility to admit that this challenge that you’re facing isn’t a life-or-death matter; it’s just today’s business decision. Of course, your actions have real-life impact on individuals, and therefore demand your thoughtful reflection and full engagement. But the issues you’re addressing are unlikely to be new or earth changing. If we trust our judgement and treat each other with respect, we’ll make decisions that will help us ride out any storm.”

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He doesn’t suggest that you come across joyous about all of the decisions you need to make. Rather, he suggests you tackle the tough issues head-on, and sleep well knowing you made your decisions with a moral compass as a guide and the values of your organization in mind.

I asked him for an example of when this was difficult for him. He shared that when he was running the Gulf Coast area, from Texas to Mississippi, for EY, the region was to be merged with their Southwest region.

“I had to stand up in front of my partners and say I supported the decision even though it meant I was losing my leadership role. And I did support the decision; it was the right thing for the firm. But I was 44 at the time and thought this position might have been my path to larger leadership roles. I felt torn by the situation but handled it the best I could. Sure enough, six months later I was asked to lead the U.K. operations and help the U.K. merge with Ireland, then have that joint practice join in the formation of the Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa (EMEIA) Area, a historic alignment for the profession. Completely by happenstance, I had developed an expertise in merging operations.”

A few years later, now back stateside, Halliday was tapped by the firm to merge two Northeast coast markets to create one unified Northeast region, combining the firm’s capabilities from Boston to Washington DC. That merger went so well, he was again asked to tackle an intricate situation that required diplomacy as much as leadership skills. When EY decided to merge their Japan practice with the rest of their Asia-PAC teams, they turned to Halliday. There, his background managing offices with different cultures and experience allowed him to align the practice with an important market for the firm’s Japanese clients.

Through all these challenges, he’s seen part of his job as being the person who always stays positive. His advice,

“You can’t lose sight of the fact that your work is only one part of who you are. I exercise regularly and have hobbies outside of work. Exercise provides the right energy and endorphins. I also love saltwater fly fishing, photography and cooking. My wife, Jenny, is my muse. She keeps me grounded and gives me perspective.”

His advice, “If you let your career become all-encompassing, you lose out on the other aspects of life, and those aspects actually help you bring more energy and enthusiasm to your work. It’s a win-win.”

3. Never speak or act in anger.

Halliday said that, over the years, he has found himself biting his tongue rather than speaking out.

“When I’m faced with an emotional issue at work, I back up and ask myself why someone else might have approached an issue from an angle of frustration or anger. I try to see the topic from their point of view. Even if I can’t get there, the buffer of time between the topic being raised and my needed response helps me share a perspective in a calm, professional, and dignified manner.”

He said he responds to voicemails or emails only after calming down. Noting, if you manage the emotion in your own voice, regardless of what you’re receiving from the other person, you’ll change the dynamic in the conversation.

Whether you’re managing a team around a table, or around the globe, your own leadership instincts will be well served by these ideas. Surround yourself with good people. Stay positive in your outlook. Resist speaking in anger. Great advice all around.

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