changes next exit

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent


I like change.

At least I say I do.

But when a shift in circumstances actually occurs, especially if it falls into the ‘major life change’ category (events affecting health, job, and personal relationships), I notice the tone in my “change is good!” statement is tinged with a touch of that sneaky joy-killer we call fear. Though I feel excitement for new opportunities that lie on the horizon, I have to admit I first play out all of the worst-case scenarios. I feel a general sense of dread. I procrastinate. I begin waking up at the haunting hour of 2 a.m., heart pounding, thoughts swirling with all of the ‘what if’s’.  I suddenly get all nostalgic about how good things were the way they were. And worst of all, I shut down socially and go into what I call Ultra-Planner Mode, attempting to work out every detail of every possible storyline of every possible situation that could possibly unfold. It’s a fear of the unknown. And a lot of us have it.

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis:

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

Having the ability to catalyze change is a competency of emotional intelligence, and is valuable as we lead and contribute to the success of our teams. How are you doing at initiating, managing and dealing with change?

Here are some indicators that your ability to catalyze and roll with change could use a little nurturing.  You:

  • Tend to put your ‘head in the sand’ and refuse to recognize the need for a shift
  • Fill your time with distractions vs. dealing with necessary actions
  • Find yourself saying, often, “…but it’s the way we do things around here…”
  • Tend to reminisce about the ‘good ole’ days’ more than you look ahead with anticipation
  • Resist thinking about the future and planning for it
  • Allow negativity about impending change to take root before it even happens

As a leader, the ability to clearly communicate change has a great impact on how your team reacts and responds to the change. It’s helpful up front to establish a guiding coalition to confirm that the change is in line with the vision and mission of your company. Be sure to address when the change will take place and how the change will impact those involved. Be concise in explaining how things have been and how you see they could be better. Attempt to deliver a message of the positive effects this shift will have on your team, company, etc.  Generate and celebrate short-term wins as the changes take place. Empower action in your teammates to be a part of making the change happen.

If you find yourself struggling with either leading change or adjusting to one that has been dealt to you, it’s OK. Most of us grapple with the sharp turns our lives can take, especially if we were not expecting it. But there’s no reason to stay in a place of fear, or negativity, both of which can breed an inability to move forward. Here are some suggestions to help not only survive but thrive a change:

  1. Do your research. Make an effort to truly understand the why’s behind the shift and not run with your preconceived (often negative) perspectives.
  2. Break up the hurdles that seem impassible into small, manageable tasks. Write them down and set time frames on completing them.
  3. Voice any concerns you may have with a safe person (close friend, coach or counselor). Sometimes just talking it through can give you a fresh outlook.
  4. Take action, even if it is just one small step. Doing something alleviates the fear of the unknown.
  5. Remind yourself of the overused yet true cliché: change is good. It can give you a much-needed fresh breath of air, and present new and exciting prospects if you let it.

Here are two good books on the topic if you want to deepen your ability to catalyze change:  Leading Change and The Heart of Change, both by John P. Kotter.