Leading Change – Part 1

Here’s something I’ve often wondered about. According to Daniel Pink and others, people are intrinsically motivated by “mastery.” Mastery means getting better at things. There is an almost universally inherent desire, a drive if you will, to get better at things we enjoy. Yet, people also seem, almost universally, to hate change. How can both be true?  Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” Not all change is growth, but all growth is change. How can people drive for improvement and growth but, at the same time resist change?

I think John Maxwell is on to something when he wrote, “People do not naturally resist change; they resist being changed.” When the change is something I initiate because I see the benefits and it’s something I enjoy or at least want to improve, I’m all for it. But, if the change feels out of my control, or is being imposed on me, I resist. Maxwell writes about a two-frame cartoon in which the leader asks, “Who wants change?” and every hand is raised. But in the second frame, when he asks, “Who wants to change?” not one hand is raised.

We want the benefits of positive change, but don’t want the pain of making any changes ourselves. If we want our team or organization to grow or improve, that will require change. How do we as leaders create change? If our people feel like it’s being imposed on them, they will be resistant. How, then, do we lead change? A good starting place is to understand why people resist change. Here are two of four reasons to consider. (We’ll cover the others next week)

Awkward and Self-Conscious

I’d like you to try something. Fold your hands together with your fingers interlaced. Now, look at your hands. Which thumb is on top? No big deal, right? Now, reverse that. Interlace your fingers with the other thumb on top. How does that feel? Awkward, right? I’ll bet you even had to think for a second to do it. I use that exercise when I teach habit formation. So much of what we do is by habit and changing it feels unnatural and awkward. I’ll bet your first impulse when you interlaced your fingers the unnatural way was to switch back to what was comfortable.

Whenever we learn something new, it feels awkward and unnatural at first. If you’ve ever played a sport or an instrument you know what I mean. We do drills to turn awkward new skills into habits. When that happens, the skill you’re focusing on becomes part of your game or part of your music-making. It’s no longer awkward, it’s a habit.

The problem is that nobody likes to feel awkward especially in front of other people. We become self-conscious and embarrassed. That’s why people are often more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions. Author and speaker, Marilyn Ferguson put it like this, “It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear … It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. there’s nothing to hold on to.”

What Will Be Lost

Our youngest son, Jordan, loves clothes. Every so often we’d see him come home wearing a new outfit. He loves bargains, too. He always brags about how little he paid for this or that article of clothing. One of his favorite clothing outlets is the Goodwill store. He finds all kinds of treasures there. Paying little means collecting a lot. One day, after seeing inside his closet and drawers, my wife informed him that he could no longer simply add to his collection. Now, “if you buy something, you have to get rid of something.” That actually put a stop to the new stuff for a while. He didn’t want to let go of anything.

People often fear change because they are focused on what they will have to give up. Authors Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura have written about this.

“The fact is, we all carry a certain amount of counterproductive cerebral baggage that weighs s us down … and hold s us back.

Our loads include everything from once valid beliefs and practices that have outlived their usefulness and applicability–to misinformation and misconceptions that we’ve accepted (and even embraced) without much examination or thought.

Why care about “baggage?” Because it negatively impacts us, the people we work with, the environment we work in, and the results we get. Simply stated, whatever we accept and believe determines how we behave…and how we behave determines what we achieve (or don’t achieve).

Their solution? “Our brains are like closets. Over time they are filled with things we no longer use–things that don’t fit. Every once in a while they need to be cleaned out.”

Harvey and Ventura are correct, of course, about the need to clear out the old stuff. The problem is that people don’t usually focus on the new stuff that might be better. They usually focus more on how hard it will be to give up their old stuff.

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