To Go Fast — Go Slow

Here is a conundrum. The fastest way to achieve significant organizational change is often by going slowly.

fastbike

The problem is that leaders live to make things happen. They thrive on taking new ground. They work to move people, ideas, and organizations toward greater accomplishment. In short, leaders are change agents. Slowly and patiently do not come naturally. Leaders resonate with Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Just Can’t Drive 55.”

A friend of mine pastors a good church with a strong reputation and significant impact. Courageously, he has embarked on a plan that will exponentially increase their impact on the lives of people and their community. However, this change will require more than new methods and curriculums. It will require a shift in culture as well as practice. He said to me, “if we try to go too fast, things will backfire.” This is one of those times when going slow is the key to going fast.

If you are a leader, there is probably at least one significant initiative on your plate right now. You can see a preferred future and you long to help your team, your employees, or your congregation get there.

I am not advocating for slower as a more noble approach. I am simply saying that organizational change is complicated. Even when necessary, it is often unwelcome. Organization change calls for time to bring people along, to cultivate buy-in, and to deal with the inherent destabilization that accompanies change. Press the accelerator of change too fast too soon too often and the resistance you’ll face can cause organizational retrenchment that permanently locks in the old ways.

Sure, some situations call for quick and decisive action. In those moments, going slowly can be irresponsible or worse. However, the impulse to make it happen now usually says more about the impatience of a leader than about what is best for the organization.

WHEN SHOULD YOU GO SLOW?

If the any of the following conditions apply, you would be well-served to slow down and allow more processing time.

    1. Your desired outcome represents a change of culture.
    2. What is being changed has been entrenched for a long time as “the way we do things.”
    3. In order to successed at implementation you will require large scale participation.
    4. Your people already feel the fatigue of multiple recent changes. All change destablizes and wears people out. The next one might demoralize the troups.
    5. Something remotely similar to the current proposal was tried without success within active corporate memory.
    6. The change you seek will touch corporate identity and when that happens personal significance feels threatened.
    7. The organization you lead is a volunteer organization, (ie. a church or club or service organization.) If this is you, start with the premise that slower is usually better and only accelerate when necessary.
WHEN YOU SHOULD GO FAST

Just as there are some times when you should go slowly, there are indeed time to act quickly. Here are a few of those.

    1. Your people are discouraged after a series of hard hits and hope of a better future is weak.
    2. You need minimal human resources to implement the change being proposed AND it will yield quick large scale wins.
    3. You face a crisis that threatens corporate viability.
    4. Your reputation in the community has been damaged and this initiative will address it.
    5. The core concept of this change is not only strategically helpful, but it was born as a grassroots effort. (To go slowly in this case will disempower your people.)
    6. You really are only making a decision. Implementation of change might need to be slowed, but indecision is fundamentally abdication of leadership.

So, what are you working on? Should you speed up or slow down? What do you think might be possible if you took a longer view? If your ultimate goal is to normalize a new day, what other steps are needed in your enrollment process?

Can you think of other criteria for when you should slow things down or speed things up?

 

 

{FYI: John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, remains one of the all-time best on the complex challeges of change.}

Elasticity and Time for Reflection

Let me start with a confession. I love shooting rubber bands at people. I’m sure it started in elementary school when real weapons were off limits, but the truth is I still love that mischievous sensation of pulling a strand of rubber across my pistol-shaped hand and firing away.



And no, this post isn’t really about shooting rubber bands. It is about the connection between elasticity and what is required for leaders to have time and space for reflection.

Leaders get things done. They don’t merely mobilize others to accomplish great things, they know how to work hard and are willing to keep their head down to do whatever it takes. The only problem is, keep your nose to the grindstone too long, you get blood in your eyes.

The ability to lead with sustained creativity and clarity requires time and space for reflection. Get embroiled in micro-management, problem-solving, or personnel issues for too long and you’ll lose the perspective that is only possible with regular reflection.

That’s where elasticity comes in. Meaningful reflection requires two things: elastic time and elastic space.

ELASTIC TIME

Unconstrained, open-ended, or at least long enough to exhaust it’s potential. Elastic time gives you the freedom to read, write, create, or ponder without the pressure that you have to pack up and move on to other urgent stuff in a few minutes. It means you have the chance to explore rabbit trails, whether they numberswiki.com

yield anything productive or not. It can stretch and expand or contract as needed.

ELASTIC SPACE

Reflection by it’s nature is creative explorative stuff. It happens best in space that invites expansive thought and behavior. It happens better in overstuffed chairs and fireplaces living rooms than in cubicles. Reflection is nurtured when you have the ability to spread out, to have two different books open at the same time, or to draw and sketch out your ideas. In essence it is space that allows you to multi-task without constraints.

Here’s no surprise. Making time for reflection will never seem urgent. There will always be tasks and people demanding urgent attention, while reflection feels like a luxury. She waits patiently at the side of your day offering to infuse you with fresh ideas that will take you beyond the mundane demands of your normal rhythms. She breathes life and innovation and perspective into your day to day demands. Until you say yes, you will never know what could have been.

And, try to lead for long without the life-giving infusion of reflective thought and your rubber band will dry out — only to snap on you next time you aim at someone or something else.

So, let’s ask the obvious.

1. When is the last time you had elastic time and space for reflection?
2. Where and when could you rectify that situation?
3. How much longer can you survive with your nose at the grindstone?

Your Thoughts?  Experience?

Change :: Leading is Change

I am fascinated by the ways and reasons we resist change. We don’t just resist changes that are big and scary, we resist change on every level. We laugh at Einstein’s definition of insanity while pretending we don’t live by it every day, “doing what we have always done, expecting different results.” Leader face this resistance constantly. At the same time, leaders often miss the subtle ways they stand in the way, too.

Last week, something hit me afresh: Even leaders who seek to help the people or organizations they lead take new ground—aka: make productive and profound change—are tempted to limit the changes they are willing to lead to those within the boundaries of their own comfort zone. To say it another way, it is easy to ask other people to make major change as long as that change is contained within the realm of what we are already comfortable with. In other words, even as we call for bold change in others we are being careful to avoid the implications of those changes in ourselves.

However, leading is about change. Leaders look at where they are now and where they need to be. They admit that it is not possible to get somewhere new doing what they have always done. Great leaders are willing to go back to the drawing board to unlearn, relearn, and become students of whole new disciplines and skills. They are willing to put it all on the line for the sake of what needs to be achieved. They literally, “walk naked into the land of the unknown.” (Robert Quinn, Deep Change.)

Leading is change, it is not about polishing the status quo. Therefore, to be a leader of change I have to allow change to begin in me.

But here’s the deal. Change is destabilizing and risky. You cannot guarantee a return on your “investment” of change until you are all in with no way of going back. Change is an act of faith to trust your best wisdom and intentions. But there are no guarantees. It is possible to pay the price of change and not achieve what you hope for. So, given the facts that change is risky, that people resist change, that change leads to loss and destabilizes an organization, it is no wonder that courageous appropriate leadership is so rare. There are lots of reasons to play it safe.

However, we will never get where we need to go by staying where we are. (How’s that for a brilliant quotable quote.)

Time for a little personal inventory:

  • What is the new territory you long for with your team or organization? What do you dream of achieving?
  • What actions, decisions, or new growth have you been putting off?
  • What risks will you have to take to start leading toward that new future?
  • and the most important question: Who do you know who could help you discover and develop the new skills or disciplines you will need to lead at a new level?

    CHANGE :: End of the 40/40 World

    Not so long ago, I listened to a talk given by Alan Roxburgh where he described the end of what he called, the “40/40 world.”  I am not sure I agree with the exact timing of his observations, but I think his point is right on the mark. In my own words, the point is as follows…

    For a generation or two we lived in a world where the average family had one parent who worked a forty-hour week for a company where they were employed forty years. In addition, most families were able to make it on the one income so that the other spouse could devote full-time attention to the job of household management and child-rearing. Among other things, this meant that when the working spouse returned home at the end of the day, the house was clean, kids were finished with homework, and dinner was on the way.

    In this environment the American church refined its programs and rhythms. Because there was a reserve of energy available for evening activities, it was very common for active church families to spend four or five days a week in church based activities—Bible studies, committee meetings, choir practice, prayer meetings, mid-week suppers, children’s programs, vacation bible schools, etc.

    That 40/40 world ended sometime near the end of the last millennium. It was replaced by a world where everyone essentially works as a consultant, a world where job security is only as good as the current project you are working on. It’s a world that requires people to put in however many hours it takes to get the job done. And, now both spouses work in this same environment replete with the anxiety, fatigue, and long hours that come with it. Families no longer have a reserve of time and energy available for multiple church or community activities. Volunteerism cannot be taken for granted.

    Thus the leadership challenge. We can bemoan the loss of the older ways all we want to, but the reality is we live in a new world and must adapt to it. We must begin to own the fact that time and energy of our people are the most important resources of any organization. Understanding how the realities of this new day severely limit people’s time and energy is a starting point from which a leader can begin to effectively adjust plans and expectations.

    The end of the 40/40 world calls for creative alternatives. Programs designed to serve people must be built on the principle of multi-usage, delivering value on multiple levels. The quantity of commitments expected of people needs to be downsized without value judgments. Every program, every commitment, every invitation must have a crystal articulated purpose and/or vision.  It will not work any longer to attempt enlisting people  out of  a sense of duty.

    Leading in a world when people had active reserves of time and energy out of which they can serve was much easier than having to compete for diminishing availability. However, the reality is, that older world doesn’t exist anymore. And, when the world you live in changes, the way you lead must change as well.

    Change :: the new status quo

    “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

    Sure, Dorothy’s line is now cliché, but it captures the disconcerting wake-up call that we all have at unpredictable moments all the time. Change is the new status quo and when least expected it catches us off guard knocking us off-balance.

    Here’s what I mean. Two weeks ago my Uncle asked me to help him get his television working. It’s a simple problem really—unless you are completely behind the curve of technological change. His television is one of those old portable 13-inch screens in a box the size of an ice chest that weighs about 25 pounds. The assisted living facility where he lives told him that the problem is he would need to order cable. He has never had cable and doesn’t understand why he can’t a good signal with a pair of old-school rabbit-ears.

    So, picture the scene. Here I was, trying to explain the problem of a 30-year-old analog TV in a flat-screen high-def digital age to a technologically illiterate senior citizen who is almost deaf. He just doesn’t have the categories.

    Think about his dilemma on a deeper level. The changing world we call home has put him in a place where the ‘rules’ he knows for how life works no longer apply. He cannot apply “rabbit-ear solutions” he understands to a “digital world” he doesn’t. His desire to wind the clock back to a day where solutions and approaches he understands still work is perfectly understandable. It is an unavoidable experience in a world where constant hi-speed discontinuous change is the order of the day.

    These are the waters we all swim in. It is the reason why I chose the image of a sailboat cutting through the waves by harnessing the wind as the metaphor for this website. Learning to embrace and navigate change is life for all of us and it is the meat and potatoes of leadership.

    I am fascinated by change, by how it happens, by the way it impacts people, and especially by what it takes to lead it effectively. I have been making observations and logging insights into leading change for a number of years now and it’s time to put more of them in writing.  So, consider this an introduction. For a number of weeks, I will devote my entries to different thoughts about change, including:

    –       The end of the 40/40 world

    –       A 5-dimensional approach to leading change

    –       Leading is change

    –       A battleship vs. a zodiak

    –       The need for heretics

    For today, the question is a simple one: what is one area of change you are tired of and what could you do to embrace it rather than fight it?

    The Easiest Way to Avoid Change

    It is December 30th and that means we are in the red-zone for the annual “get your life together” rhetoric calling for New Year’s resolutions to fuel personal growth. But, what do you do if you don’t buy into this annual opportunity for a fresh start? What if you would rather avoid another attempt at change and the potential disappointment that comes with it? What if you like things just the way they are?

    If you’d rather avoid the risk of change, this is your lucky day!

    I would like to let you in on a secret. It is the easiest way to avoid change with the least amount of effort. In fact, by simply mastering the well-timed use of two words, you can indefinitely avoid the unpleasant risk and hard work of change on a personal level or even thwart an initiative for change in any group you are part of.

    The secret?  Learn to use these two magic words:  not yet.
    Here’s how it works.

    Imagine you have or let’s say you “know someone” who has a few pounds to lose. By simply saying, “I really need to lose some weight, it is really important, but not yet. I have this holiday to get through or that trip to take first.

    Perhaps you need to get your financial house in order. If so, try this one: “I am working on a plan for how to do it, but with all the Christmas bills now is not the time, at least not yet.”

    Or, maybe, you need to make a few changes at work or you are facing some other challenge that will require courageous change.  Look yourself (or anyone else that matters) in the eye. Affirm the need for change, but in sobering tones finish your sentence with, “but the timing just isn’t right. I’ll need to make the change soon, but not yet.”

    The secret power of this little phrase is nowhere more transcendent than in a group setting, let’s say at your church. Picture the scene, some leader suggests changing a program or tradition you find personally meaningful all in the name of greater impact on other people in your community. Sure, maybe at some point in time it would be a good idea, but not yet.

    Instead of suffering in silence, this is a perfect time to speak up and wax eloquently on why this proposal is a fantastic idea. But, before anyone can shout amen, continue right on and in the most sensitive manner point out to the group that considering all the current challenges at hand, now is not the time.  “It is clearly a great idea, but not yet!”  Pontificate that before diving into the disconcerting waters of change on something so important, it would be good to do more study, more preparation, more shoring up some of the core programs and practices that already need attention. Thank those that have offered the proposal. It is a good idea, but not yet.

    Before you know it, by your skillful use of the non-taxing strategy of “not yet” you will have postponed change indefinitely. You will have avoided all risk. You will have been able to maintain status quo. What could be more comfortable?

    I know that “they say” if something needs to be done, there is no time like the present. And, I know thatin the Bible James warns us about walking away without making any changes after looking in the mirror and seeing exactly what needs to be done. Even the book of Hebrews says, ‘today if you hear the Lord’s voice, do not harden your hearts…” But certainly all these people understand that now is not the time to seize the day and make those changes that have been nagging at you for some time.  They are good ideas, but not yet.

    Unless of course change is actually needed.

    A Simpler View of the Church

    We live in a world of moving parts. What used to be or at least appeared to be stable and predictable is changing. What was changing is now entirely unfamiliar. Shoot, even gas prices are in such flux that even though we are a car culture we can’t even take driving for granted anymore.

    CommunityNow, drop the church into this vortex of change and you start running into destabilizing questions of identity, effectiveness, methodology, etc.

    I am committed to the church and in fact have given my life to see her achieve the potential I believe God intended. But to be honest, in this world of complexity we need to re-discover the simple essence of what it means to be the church. I have given it a lot of thought and I’d like to offer a suggestion-a new attempt at definition, if you will.

    My best understanding these days of the church as God intended is this: a community on mission.

    When we start thinking about all the moving parts associated with the church, we get lost in traditions, methods, organizational structures, buildings, worship styles, denominational distinctives, etc. But when we cut things down to their basic essence, I find that the notion of a “community on mission” nails it.

    The church as a community on mission confronts the notion that we can follow Christ or know God fully in isolation, that happens best in the safety, encouragement, wisdom, and diversity of a community. It also confronts the tendency of a well-trained consumerist culture to approach community as a place designed to serve us. A community finds its fullness in the very process of giving itself away. And since, God is a missional God, we find him when we join him in the work he is about.

    There is great work being done on what it means to live in community as the people of God and there is equally significant work being done on what it means to live on mission as a normative expression of life. I am convinced these days that the church is an integration of both. As a community we are a place where people share life and discover more of the author of life. On mission we align our lives with His work in this world. We can never be a community apart from mission, nor can we be a missional enterprise apart from community.

    Redecorating a One Room House

    Over lunch in central Romania, across the table from a Hungarian church planter named Josef, I heard someone describe ways the church of North America. It was a conversation whose context helped make it profoundly unforgettable.

    shifting the furniture

    The subject of our conversation was the speed and complexity of change facing the church in former Soviet-bloc countries. While people in the U.S. often feel perplexed by the undertow of tidal change within our culture, these eastern-bloc countries have experienced change in the past 15 years that took us 75 years. Yet, his comments have direct application for us.

    Josef’s comments, “so much of the time, the church is like people inside a one-room building who are busy rearranging the furniture but ignoring the real question. The fact is, we are ignoring the fact that we are still in a one-room building and nothing has changed. We are so busy with church activities that everyone is worn out and we aren’t bringing about real change. The church of Hungary is typically irrelevant to thepeople and life of our country.”

    I fell in love with this man. He is culturally and organizationally astute. For years he ran an international import-export business and resisted God’s prompting to become a pastor. In his words, “I never wanted to become a pastor. They are poor, they have large families, and they are generally irrelevant.”

    What’s my point? Moving the furniture around creates a busyness that masquerades as change, but it isn’t. The man sitting at a bar with his friend are not talking about the longing of their souls for a local church that is using PowerPoint and video clips. We live in a world that perceives the church as irrelevant and self-absorbed-at best. The world around us is looking for a church that will move outside its walls and into relationship with messy people and hurting world.

    I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, we will be those who give themselves to a new day for the church.

    Endurance and Success

    Good leaders with good ideas and good plans still fail on a regular basis. Sure, sometimes they fail because of inadequate resources, sometimes they fail because of flawed implementation plans, and sometimes failure is the result of character weakness.

    But as often as not, the reason a new project or initiative fails is nothing less than a lack of endurance–when the going got tough they stopped going.

    For the last couple years my wife, Margaret, and I have discovered that we love cycling together. Our favorite weekend ride is a 25 mile loop to Huntington Beach. We ride to the beach, have coffee on the patio at the Main St. Starbucks, and then ride back home. However, somewhere along in our cycling journey we decided to try something much more ambitious.

    102 miles in Palm Springs

    February 9th we accomplished our goal of completing a full “century” — 100 miles in one day. (It was our second attempt.) Crossing the finish line in Palm Springs with energy to spare was a victorious moment, but, it wasn’t a bed of roses. It was a long hard, demanding day on our bikes.

    Along the way, I recognized that the physiological-psychological journey I was experiencing had significant leadership parallels. Maybe someday I will write on some of the others, but the biggest lesson of all was that the key to success was simply to not stop. Even though we were making great progress, even though we had trained, even though we were experiencing success, there were lots of times when quitting felt like a sensible, even desirable idea.

    Between mile 40 and 60, after the initial fun of the adventure had long since been exhausted, when we were barely halfway, when physical and mental fatigue were growing, I had the big “Aha!” of the day. The key to successfully completing 100 miles is simple: Just don’t stop! If you don’t stop pedaling, you will succeed.

    Sure, I have heard and even said that the key to success is to keep going. However, in many endeavors it actually makes more sense to say to yourself, just don’t stop. Since today is the only day you can control, just don’t stop today. If you take that approach every day at every step, before long, you will have succeeded.

    Anyone who has tried to lead change or tried to launch some new enterprise knows that there are long seasons in the middle zone of your initiative when the hard work ahead is still as great as what you have already done. Those are discouraging, dark, non-glamorous days. Those are days when the return on your sacrifice is still far off, when fatigue is palpable, and when there are still enough variables in play that success can not be guaranteed.

    Whether you are leading change, starting a business, planting a new church, trying to lose weight, spearheading a new program in your company/ church/ or community you will face days plagued by logical reasons you should quit. Don’t. Solicit help to assess the effectiveness of your methodologies, but don’t stop. Trust yourself and all the preparation you have done.

    You see, on a daily basis, endurance simply means that today I just won’t quit.

    Somewhere about mile 85 or 90 we could taste victory. Our speeds increased, our enthusiasm returned, and with a great deal of excitement we leaned into the final corners heading to the finish line. 102 miles after we had started, the pain and fatigue of those difficult earlier miles evaporated. Success has that effect.

    So, what are you working on these days that calls for extraordinary endurance?

    What reasons are you giving yourself for quitting?

    Is what got you started still valid?

    Whatever you are telling yourself in this moment, it’s time to do the most important thing. DON’T STOP.