By Glenn Gutek
Leaders are change agents. It is impossible to lead people into an unknown future without knowing how to successfully introduce change. It has been said that the one constant in life is change, but why must it be so often, so soon?
There are some personalities that avoid change the way an unprepared student avoids making eye contact with the teacher. There are many that value stability over creativity and for them change can be an excruciating experience. However, there are some that get bored with predictability and the idea of change is a thrill ride that keeps life fresh and invigorating. No matter your personality preference, adapting to new things, new ideas, new tools, new processes and new possibilities is both necessary and difficult.
The problem with change does not rest in the wiring of our personalities; it rests in our desire for comfort. Even those that embrace the notion of being a change agent will oftentimes find themselves leading in the direction of their own comfort. Leaders often express frustration and shock that the people they lead resist anything different. The real shock is that leaders are often not innovators, but comfort seekers. The unarticulated question rumbling around the brain of many so called “change agents” is, “how do I lead this group to a place where I am most comfortable with the role I will play for a very long time?”
Retailer K-Mart was comfortably resting on top of the discount retail market when the super systems of Wal-Mart made cheap prices even cheaper. Ma Bell and the baby bell’s were comfortably asleep when the world moved from land lines to cellular technology. That same alarm awoke Bill Gates when the world moved from software to the Internet. The former did not hear the alarm and have drifted into irrelevance. The later examples — fortunately — heard the alarm and made significant changes.
We all understand the need to change. What we may not understand is that many entrepreneurial leaders are reluctant to embrace change. Entrepreneurial leaders risked plenty to launch their enterprise. Many thought their leadership, creativity, and vision would promote change for years to come. Entrepreneurial leaders may have been lulled to sleep thinking they were masters of change when they were just creating their own place of comfort.
What is pushing you toward change? Where are you finding internal resistance? What worries you the most, and keeps you up at night? These are your wake up calls, and you shouldn’t hit the snooze button. Your slumber will get continuously more uncomfortable.
There is a wealth of research and wisdom on the techniques of navigating change. What is not easily found is advice on how to self-prepare for the challenge of change. Below is a simple and memorable way to think about the work you may want to employ to embrace the change that is to come.
Get some distance: How are you at math? If you are like many, the memory of doing math homework is filled with frustration. No matter how many times the teacher went over the formula or covered the material it was very difficult to solve the problem and the harder you tried the further away the solution seemed. Did you ever have the experience of giving up, walking away and in a moment of rest you began to see things with greater clarity? Sometimes, getting away from the problem is all you need to see things differently. If you know change is necessary and you are fighting it, try getting away. A vacation, a mission trip, or sabbatical are all things that can provide some distance and perspective.
Go the distance: Countless business leaders have already started marking the time till they sell or retire. Change requires perspective, and beginning to limit your vision will only provide a limited perspective. You will not navigate change until you can see beyond your own tenure in leadership. Be willing to envision a future that is beyond your leadership expectancy.
Stop your persistence: Everybody knows the classic definition of insanity. The first time you initiated change it required that keep the course and demonstrated greater persistence than the forces of resistance. That tendency toward persistence may be the very thing keeping you from seeing and embracing change. Try quitting something. Your “stop doing” list is far more important than your “start doing” list.
Try being inconsistent: The sign of brilliance is the ability to hold two conflicting truths in tension. We need to keep taxes low and increase revenue to eliminate debt. We are taught that it is a sign of weakness, a lack of conviction to play both sides against each other. While there is some truth to that, in our modern world of constant change we need to lean toward the left one day, and the right the next. You will not be able to embrace change until you can honestly contemplate that your historically held position may not be the whole truth. Try advocating for something that you had previously opposed.
Is it possible that you are the one reluctant to change? Let your passion for success and desire to lead others into an unknown future outweigh your desire for comfort.
Glenn Gutek is a speaker and CEO of Awake Consulting & Coaching, a firm that helps small businesses and organizations improve their leadership and business development through training, development and coaching. He is also the author of “Wide-Awake Leadership,” which teaches leaders how to overcome mediocrity though effective leadership.