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?

    Leadership Radar

    It’s a simple concept really: Wise leaders consciously pay attention to and sharpen their radar.

    Everyone knows what radar does. It creates a picture of what is out there on the horizon that a pilot should be paying attention too. In my pathetically non-technical version, radar systems pick up signals from a wide variety of stuff out there and then through sophisticated programming software sorts through all the signals to determine which are truly important.

    Some radar signals are welcome and some function as a warning.

    Wise leaders rely on their radar as well. On the positive side, leaders utilize their radar to watch for the “blips” of potential new leaders, for new opportunities, for trends to be seized upon, chances to position their ministry or organization for expanded influence, and more. On the negative side, they are always alert for troubling trends, for financial challenges, for approaching conflicts, etc. etc. You get the idea.

    The question is: how does a leader sharpen the programming and sensitivity of her or his radar?

    The answer is found in the habits of life-long learners. Life-long learners are intentional about their own growth through mentoring, reading, training, and by putting themselves into stretching experiences. These kinds of activities literally program the software of your radar. They enable you to sort through all the incoming signals of a demanding life to spot the ‘radar blips’ that you need to respond to.

    The question is not simple are you a life-long learner, but what are you doing as a learner to increase the capacity of your leadership radar?