Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Change’

driving with the brakes on

I pulled out into traffic, accelerated, and then – instinctively braked the car. The brake lights on the vehicle ahead had me reacting before my brain had fully processed the situation. Scanning the road and beyond, I realized there was no reason to be braking. And, in fact, the vehicle was traveling at normal highway speeds. They were, unaccountably, driving with their foot on the brakes.

I know leaders who drive with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. They sense the need for change, but find five ways a day to avoid it. And, the truth is, we all prefer the known to the unknown.

We are comfortable with our mediocre status quo. We deny what we see in front of us. We escape, getting far enough away from the issue that it doesn’t touch us directly. We distract ourselves with busyness and the tyranny of the immediate.

Oh how we hate change. Oh how we dislike endings. The messiness, frustration, anger, denial, disenchantment – the loss, all disturb our equilibrium. Yet, as Henry Cloud says, “Knowing the names of the streets is not a good reason to keep living in hell.” 1

If I said, “The building is on fire! Get out!” Change would happen quickly. If I told you that the store a mile from here is selling your favorite electronic device two-for-one this afternoon. Change would happen quickly. To create an ending requires fear of the negative consequences and the allure of the positive possibilities. How do we create necessary endings?

Start by playing the movie. This is the movie that shows what happens tomorrow, the month after that, and the following year. “Do you want to be having the same conversation with the same incompetent employee next month and the month after that?” Or, “Do you want to be unable to purchase the new equipment you need now a year from now because you haven’t fired the person who can’t get the billing done before the deadline?”

List your frustrations: someone who is performing poorly, someone who won’t listen; ineffective operation management that is producing financial problems, an ongoing pattern (yours or someone else’s) that doesn’t change, a strategy that doesn’t work. Stop the distractions. Tell yourself the truth. Play the movie. Smell the smoke. Make the change.

Enlist allies. Surround yourself with people who share your urgency. This creates heat from the requirement to be visibly responsible and accountable. It creates peer pressure from people and team members who are supporting and contributing energy. Heat plus pressure create energy to get unstuck and create forward motion. Turn up the heat. Make the change.

Make the vision visible. This line has begun to fall on deaf ears. And yet, our brains are designed to create what we imagine. It’s why basketball players envision the ball going through the hoop before they release it in the act of shooting. Make sure your actions support your imagined vision. You can’t make the shot if you don’t have the ball. You can’t make the shot if you don’t release the ball. Talk about it. Write it down. Post photos of the new reality. Make it real. Make the change.

Set a deadline. Deadlines force endings and change. Is April 15 near? The closer it is, the more likely your income taxes are complete. Deadlines create structure, organize energy, and direct focus. Be specific about your expectations. State the consequences. State the deadline. It works for the underperformer, the project, or initiating a process change. Light the fire. Make the change.

Be trustworthy. Endings and beginnings are not invisible. Living the change is a daily activity. Actions must match words. Intentions must be clear. Competence must be displayed. Results must be seen. And in the mist of change, intentionally connect with people in a meaningful way. Seek to understand their concerns and challenge them to consider what is possible if time and energy are properly invested. Act with integrity. Make the change.

Time and energy are our primary resources. Leaders use these resources to act and, sometimes, go where others are not so that others can follow. Leaders create necessary endings so that new beginnings are possible. “The truth is that there is no ending or better time coming unless we do something.” 2

Is it time to stop driving with the brakes on?

Further reading:

1Cloud, H. (2011). Necessary Endings. Harper Business: New York, NY.
2Kotter, J. (2008).  A Sense of Urgency. Harvard Business Press: Boston, MA.

Imagining new maps

How do we create the maps that we use to navigate everything from the work environment to our relationships to the grocery store? What happens when change, either gradual or catastrophic, requires us to re-imagine our maps? These questions re-emerged as I began with reflecting on a blog post by Shirley Showalter, writing about memoir and walking in the city.

And, the questions appeared in recent conversations with leaders. The conversations about navigating organizational waters roiled by the economy, a new generation of workers, and shifts in how people communicate and connect. Thomas Friedman’s recent column asks us to re-imagine the map we call leadership, “The role of the leader now is to get the best of what is coming up from below and then meld it with a vision from above.”

So here, to stimulate your map-making imagination, is an excerpt from The BFG, by Roald Dahl:

In the leading machine the Head of the Air Force was sitting beside the pilot. He had a world atlas on his knees and he kept staring first at the atlas, then at the ground below, trying to figure out where they were going. Frantically he turned the pages of the atlas.

‘Where the devil are we going?’ he cried.

‘I haven’t the foggiest idea,’ the pilot answered. ‘The Queen’s orders were to follow the giant and that’s exactly what I’m doing.’

The pilot was a young Air Force officer with a bushy moustache. He was very proud of his moustache. He was also quite fearless and he loved adventure. He thought this was a super adventure. ‘It’s fun going to new places,’ he said.

‘New places!’ shouted the Head of the Air Force. ‘What the blazes d’you mean new places?’

‘This place we’re flying over now isn’t in the atlas, is it?’ the pilot said, grinning.

‘You’re darn right it isn’t in the atlas!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. ‘We’ve flown clear off the last page!’

‘I expect that old giant knows where he’s going,’ the young pilot said.

‘He’s leading us to disaster!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. He was shaking with fear. In the seat behind him sat the Head of the Army who was even more terrified.

‘You don’t mean to tell me we’ve gone right out of the atlas?’ he cried, leaning forward to look.

‘That’s exactly what I’m telling you!’ cried the Air Force man. ‘Look for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We went off that over an hour ago!’ He turned the page. As in all atlases, there were two completely blank pages at the very end. ‘So now we must be somewhere here,’ he said, putting a finger on one of the blank pages.

‘Where’s here?’ cried the Head of the Army.

The young pilot was still grinning broadly. He said to them, ‘That’s why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new countries. You’re meant to fill them in yourself.’

Where is your organization in uncharted waters? Is the way you lead changing?

a look AT the windshield
Turning off the autopilot

a look AT the windshield

While I was driving down the road in the rain, wipers running at top speed, peering beyond the vehicle to the street and traffic, I came to a stop. The stop was both literal – at the stop sign – and figurative  – a mental stop sign.

The mental “stop sign” was part of an ongoing thought process from earlier today. This morning, I was having a conversation about organizational change and how to introduce change models to a leadership team. Another person in the conversation asked, “What would be a good metaphor for introducing a change model?”

Two hours later, driving through pouring rain, this presented itself: When I’m driving I see through the windshield. I use a windshield every day, but how often do I stop to think about the windshield itself?

One metaphor for a change model is a windshield. The windshield is allows us to drive safely in challenging weather conditions, protects us from bugs and thrown rocks. It also allows passengers to see clearly and ride in safety. Like the windshield, organizations and individuals have belief systems that allow us to “drive through” life experiences without thinking about the belief system or mental model.

Consider the windshield …. In the same way, a change model offers a “windshield” experience. It offers a mechanism for viewing the world. It offers a way to navigate the landscape ahead. And, just as windshield systems come with wipers and wiper fluid, change models include tools to navigate landscapes altered by adverse conditions and reduced visibility.

If you are an organization leader, I encourage you to get to reflect on the belief system and mental model that you use to navigate your world. Then I challenge you to research at least one new change model. As organizations face ongoing, discontinuous change, this is the equivalent of cleaning your windshield of bugs and dirt, topping off the windshield wiper fluid, and buying new wipers.

What is your preferred change model?

Our Maps of the World
The Dragon Next Door

Planning is not an event

Planning is not an event. It is the continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not, of making risk-taking decisions with the greatest knowledge of their potential effect, of setting objectives, appraising performance and results through systematic feedback, and making ongoing adjustments as conditions change.
Peter Drucker

Idea for reflection – 27

Staying out of both ditches

Last Sunday, Jon and I went for a drive to Marion Reservoir. We saw three bald eagles in the area of the north cove. And for the first time since I’ve lived in Kansas, I saw the reservoir frozen from shore-to-shore. The pink clouds on the horizon were lingering fog. It was a beautiful afternoon. 

January Afternoon at Marion Reservoir

The Sunday afternoon drive turned adventurous when we decided to take a shortcut to Pilsen to investigate the church steeple we saw peeking over the horizon. We chose one of the many gravelled township roads to travel north. After about a half mile of gravel, we were confronted with an unmaintained road, which in winter – translated for non-Kansans  – means mud over flint rock and limestone. No problem! We have 4-wheel drive. So, onward we charged. The silence in the truck grew tangible as we slid first into the ditch on the passenger side, crossed a small bridge, then slid across into the ditch on the driver side (which was feet from a creek), and back into the ditch on the passenger side as we climbed to the stop sign. When the “mudball” that we were now riding in came to a stop, Jon said, “Let’s not do that again!” 

As I continue, a week later, to process that experience, I think about how much time our organizations spend in ditches. On one side of the road is rapid growth, change, and unpredictability. On the other side of the road is the status quo, rigid thinking, and control. Too much time in the ditch with uncontrolled growth and change will cause the organization to explode as the bubble bursts. Too much time in the ditch with the status quo leads to a slow organizational death from irrelevance and attrition. The challenge is to find ways of being that are neither reactive or rigid. To find ways of creating a road between the ditches. A road that is filled with energy for being flexible and adaptable while being coherent and stable. 

So let the road building begin. Let us find ways of improving organizational roads to support the middle way of “yes” and “and“. Let us find ways to stay out of both ditches and reach the destination.

Things we don’t see

Prairie Hoar Frost II

This past week I took a number of photos when a hoar frost settled on the Kansas prairie. Since then I’ve been reflecting on this photo:

Prairie Hoar Frost III

In the photo is a beautiful red farmstead. I drive past this scene several times each week, but I have never noticed it before. The fact is that I have seen it, I just haven’t noted the obvious.

Whether driving in the car, walking in the woods, drinking tea with friends, or leading an organization development project, I continue to challenge myself to be present and aware – to see things I don’t see.

Being the change I wish to see . . .

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” is a familiar quote from Mahatma Gandhi in organization change circles. Recently I’ve talked with several people about how organizational change happens. The consensus is that change begins with the individual.

If we want more trust in our organization, each of us must be more trusting. If we want more support for collaboration and communication, each of us must be willing to suspend our own opinions and our wish to be “right” while seeking to find workable solutions for all. If we want less conflict and tension, each of us must be willing to be calm and at peace with ourselves while genuinely caring for others. When I am open to transformation and actively work to change myself, I can become part of a chain of connections that opens a door for transformation and change that can benefit everyone.

Being open to change in myself is a life-long process. This process includes self-awareness and self-reflection, being willing to take responsibility for my own development. It asks me to make conscious choices, even in the midst of chaos. It asks me to practice being present with empathy, kindness, and compassion wherever I find myself. It asks me to make conscious choices about what to do and what to stop doing.

May each of us make a choice to be the change we all long for and wish to see. May we come to understand that how we treat ourselves, each other, and the world creates our experience. May we live into the answers for our questions. May our organizations be changed, one individual at a time.

Our Maps of the World

The human brain is an amazing organ. The wiring is now known to be flexible and adaptable throughout life. That wiring is what gives each person a unique view of the world, their own . . . , individual . . . , World Map.

In times of change and transition, we are disoriented. Our brains start by searching through our maps for familiar terrain, places, and paths — the ones that have helped us successfully navigate our experience.  If we fail to find a map that can serve us, we may reach a point where we agree with the old map makers, who when reaching the end of the known world, wrote, “Beyond here there be dragons.”

In our organizations and relationships, all of us act and react based on our maps. This works well until we are confronted with the extraordinary. The extraordinary can take many forms, an organization shake-up, a stock market collapse, a trip to another country, a death. When we encounter the extraordinary, we are invited to choose: turn back to the familiar and safety of our known map or confront and befriend the dragons of the unknown, creating a new map.

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire Bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye glanced toward us:
“I seen ’em myself!” he said fiercely.
                 C.S. Lewis in The Alliterative Metre

%d bloggers like this: