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weave. We change. We are hard-wired to adapt. We’ll sharpen a rock when our hands will no longer protect our children. We’ll cross treacherous seas when prejudice and corruption stifles our future. We’ll elect a president who could have been a slave if born a few generations earlier. The more neuroscientists learn about the working of the human brain, the more they learn that we yearn for change, for novelty, for anything that will make our lives fresh, better and more exciting. It’s time for leaders to embrace the idea that their most important role is not to drive change, but to facilitate the natural desire to change. ...create new work that others believe is meaningful, that they can master, and over which they have clear sovereignty. So what does this mean for leaders? Peter Senge’s oft-repeated assertion that “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” is directionally correct, however not particularly instructive for leaders. How about taking a more philosophical approach and aim to “be the change you want”? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Leading change requires strong, visible and focused action. (Btw...all the coffee mugs, T-shirts and email tag lines notwithstanding, there is no evidence that Gandhi actually penned or spoke these over-used words.) Immunity to Change, the brilliant work of organizational psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, provides a critical insight that is particularly helpful for leaders. They developed the theory of “competing commitments” to explain why people engage in behaviors, often unknowingly, that undermine their ability to achieve an outcome they genuinely want, and that only when these commitments are satisfied is change possible. Simply put, it is not that people do not want to change; they are just being faithful to something more important to them on a very personal level. Here is the key for leaders: At work, the vast majority of us share three common, deeply-held “competing commitments” and we will only change when we are confident that the new state will satisfy these commitments. Whether we are the janitor or the CEO, we are profoundly and irreversibly committed to: 1. being an important cog in the machine, 2. appearing uniquely competent, and 3. being the captain of our own ship. Expressed another way, when it comes to our jobs, we don’t want to be irrelevant, appear inept or be significantly constrained by others. This is not deep, complex psychology. While humans are multi-faceted and diverse creatures, we share remarkably similar mental models when approaching our work. In fact, these three commitments are so widely-held that leaders can use them as a universal blueprint for very potent leadership action. Here is the formula for successfully initiating, executing and sustaining change: create new work that others believe is meaningful, that they can learn to master, and over which they have clear sovereignty. While there are numerous activities that need to be addressed during a change initiative, here are the three dimensions that leaders need to make priorities in order to help others embrace, execute and accelerate the change. 1. Create Direction - We don’t resist change because of uncertainty. In fact, we are naturally attracted to the adventure and mystery associated with the unknown. We resist meaningless work. Change is rarely about a transformation to a completely new state. It is most often about moving onto a new road, making a shift in direction, changing pathways. Great leaders build a foundation and motivation for change by crafting and communicating a renewed sense of purpose, alignment, and individual contribution. They create a picture of this new road in a way that not only allows others to plot a course forward, but also illuminates the compelling purpose and personal meaning. 2. Accelerate Mastery – As important as it is, creating direction is not enough (and, sadly, this is where many change initiatives stall). For most of us, our personal identities are heavily shaped by our work, and we want to feel special in this work. We want to be the star of the show. Great leaders are also great teachers and great mentors. They generously share their expertise and ensure team members quickly master the skills, competencies and processes necessary for high performance in the changed environment. 3. Coach Others – Once people master their work, they want to own it. There is something inside each of us that wants to be the ruler of our own domain, regardless of how big or how small. One of the most valuable outcomes of great coaching is a strong sense of personal responsibility, self-reliance and autonomy. Great leaders help others gain extraordinary role clarity, independence, and personal commitment through coaching relationships and conversations in which they explore personal aspirations Change is no longer a discreet activity caused by intermittent economic, demographic and technological forces, but rather has become a constant state in most organizations. To be a great leader today, one needs to be able to guide others through a continuous cycle of creating new pathways, developing new expertise and creating autonomy. Leaders must get to the future first. They need to be scouts, prophets and pathfinders. Go there, discover what it is like and return to teach others. As novelist William Gibson said, “The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed.” Let me summarize this article. Here is the bad news: If your team or organization appears to be resisting change, this says little about the people involved, but is, in fact, a direct reflection on your leadership. Here is the good news: People crave change, they just need to deal with their commitment to meaning, mastery and autonomy first. Your job is to help them do just that. Never has great change leadership been so important and never in shorter supply. This is an incredibly exciting time for leaders who are prepared to step up to a whole new set of challenges. LE The Big Lie Gregg Thompson is President at Bluepoint Leadership Development and author of several books, including “Unleashed: Leader as Coach”. Call: (513) 683.4702 Email greggthompson@bluepointleadership.com 57 leadership excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 04.2014


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