Leadership and the art of change
Life is a long process of getting used to things you started out to change. – Frank A. Clark
As the story goes, it was on June 4, 1783, at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, that a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines was a huge taffeta bag 33 feet in diameter. In the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the balloon was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky.
Six thousand feet in the air it went—the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil.
From the earliest days of man, change has been a difficult proposition. We are creatures of comfort and creatures of habit. Shake up the apple cart and you will have a fight on your hands; especially if you are a leader. Take the workplace for example. A recent survey commissioned by talent management firm Plateau and conducted by Harris Interactive, finds that 74 percent of workers - satisfied or not - would consider leaving if approached with another offer. In other words, change is always in the air – yes, even at your office.
Steven Covey said, “There are three constants in life; change, choice, and principles.” And as a leader how you integrate those truths is an important part of your leadership style. Here are three insights about change that will challenge the way you think about it and how it can help you as a leader.
The change we want – looks outward.
In leadership when we think about the changes we want it usually has something to do with someone else. Our grumblings often center on what someone at the office is doing, or not doing, that frustrates us. People are not performing at the level you want, there is too much in-fighting or office politics, performance goals are not being met, etc.
The change you want is the frustration of your leadership.
It is frustrating because it has you focused on things at the margins that steal quality time in terms of productivity. All you know is that you are frustrated and something has to change. And unfortunately, creating change out of frustration tends to lead to unhealthy choices regarding change and does not help you in the long term.
The change we need – looks inward.
One of the hardest things for a leader to do is to look inward with a critical eye. The British politician Nancy Astor said, “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything or nothing.” And so long as you want to change everything else but remain unwilling to change yourself it will remain an encumbrance on your leadership.
The change you need is the necessity of your leadership.
It is when you honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses - your blind spots and attitudes -that inward change begins. Improvement will only happen when you look honestly in the mirror and make the changes you need to make before expecting them from others. But it’s when you are transparent, ask for feedback, and demonstrate humility that you can begin to create a culture of change in your organization. And the day you learn to let go of the things you can’t change in other people is the day you let go of many of your frustrations as a leader.
The change we celebrate – looks upward.
Max Depree said, “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to by remaining what we are.” In leadership, the goal is not to sit back and rest in our comfort zones. We should constantly be striving to become what we need by embracing that which we must. Change is a constant and we must welcome it and be open to it if we are to grow.
The change you celebrate is the blessing of your leadership.
It is a blessing when you forget about trying to change other people and instead change yourself. It is a blessing when you embrace your calling and purpose as a leader and fulfill your destiny not because you resisted change but because you dared to welcome it.
© 2017 Doug Dickerson