At the End of Your Change Journey…


iStock_000005289966Small“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot

There is great power in metaphors, analogies, and stories…ways of communicating that move deeply inside of us, rather than just firing neurons in our brains. One of the greatest teachers of this message was Joseph Campbell.

There are several important things that I have learned about change journeys from Campbell over the years; in this post I share a few of those lessons with you.

If you look at the T.S. Eliot quote above, the message is really quite simple… New things come out of the old. Some thing or things have to end for others to begin. Starting a transformational journey, whether at the personal, organizational, or even the societal level, means letting go of something that has served as an anchor in the past. Beginnings can’t happen without endings.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey provides a powerfully wise road map to what your transformational journey is (and/or will be) like.

First, it is important to know that there are really two journeys needed if you are to achieve your desired outcomes. There is the outer journey: the new facilities, the new strategy, the new technology, the new processes, the new products, the new comp plan; you get the idea. (At the individual level, it may be the new career choice, the new relationship, the new home, etc.) But, there is also the inner journey: the new way of thinking about customers, or products, or line workers, or peers; the new way of seeing yourself and your role in relation to others; and, there are new ways of behaving as a result of the new ways of thinking.

The hero cannot make the journey successfully to the end without addressing both the inner and the outer.

The next important lesson that Campbell offers is the answer to the question, Who is the hero? 

As someone who has been a change practitioner all of his life, the unfortunate truth is that all too often those in this profession (change agents, mentors, trusted advisers, counselors, therapists, etc.) see ourselves as the heroes. We are not. We are simply the guides. We may do our jobs well, or poorly. We may offer exquisite guidance and profound insights, or we may mislead those who are taking the journey. We may walk alongside them, or serve as Sherpas carrying the weight of guide and counselor, but we are not the heroes. Hopefully, we apply every bit of wisdom we have; we offer the truth even when it is uncomfortable; we support the decisions, even when we disagree; we learn and grow; and we share our deepening wisdom with others so that our profession continues to advance. But, none of that makes us heroes of the change journey.

The heroes are those who make the journey, from the front line to the C-suite.

This is the next lesson that Joseph Campbell offers. The heroes are those who make the journey. Leaders are not heroes because they make the right decisions. They are not heroes because they send others to execute them. They only become heroes when they themselves take the inner and the outer journey. As my mentor Daryl Conner says, “Leaders can’t transform their organizations unless they are willing to transform themselves.”

This means that every change is personal. If the organization is facing conflict or imbalance in the marketplace, but the leadership is not taking it personally, significant change is not going to succeed. If the changes that are being faced are business imperatives and the C-suite is equipped with golden parachutes, be careful. If they are not personally feeling the heat, it is time to bring in new leadership for the change.

Perhaps your change is at the end. You–or you and your organization–are at a new beginning. Joseph Campbell offers up one more lesson to consider.

The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.

What has been your experience with the Hero’s Journey? What are the most important lessons you have learned. Please share your insights below.

Change Isn’t an Intellectual Exercise.


Picture1Well of course not! Who would think that? After all, falling in love, or falling out of love… The loss of a loved one. Moving to a new home, whether across the city or around the world. A new job. A termination. All have an emotional component to them. They may touch the heart, the gut, the head, or any combination of the three.

Of course change isn’t an intellectual exercise. Who would think that?

Too often, we all do. We fail to recognize and honor the cathartic nature of the changes we are facing, or the changes we are driving into our organizations. If we do acknowledge that there is more than an intellectual component, it is generally about “the others going through the change.” Rarely (especially for men), are we honest about our own emotional roller coaster ride.

This post is not about the psychology behind the failure to acknowledge the need for–and allow–catharsis. That’s outside my area of expertise. What I do want to write about is why acknowledging and allowing catharsis–for ourselves as well as others–is so important.

Let’s go back for a moment to the definition of change that underlies all of my work and my writing. Change: a disruption in expectations. If change is a disruption in expectations, the bigger the disruption, the more challenging the change will be to successfully execute.

If I come to work in the morning and the coffee maker isn’t working, it may drive a change in my routine. I expected to have coffee when I sat down at my desk; now I need to run back out, or place an order to have some coffee delivered, or settle for water. Chances are, the disruption is not gong to last long; I may grumble about it at the water cooler, but even that is not likely in most situations.

On the other hand, what if I arrive back from vacation to find someone else’s name on what was my office door, someone else sitting in what was my Executive High-Back Pneumatic Leather Chair? Unless I’ve been promoted, the disruption is profound, and the reaction most likely visceral.

Why is it so important to–appropriately–address all aspects of that reaction? For the same reason that it is so important for organizational leaders to recognize and allow their own cathartic reaction. For the same reason it is so important for each of us to recognize and allow our own cathartic reaction to the major changes we experience.

It doesn’t matter the catalyst of the change…work or personal, or even societal; it doesn’t matter if you see the change as positive or negative. This is one of the incredible, fascinating things about change. It just matters how big the disruption is. The bigger the change, the more critical addressing the cathartic component of it will be.

For some people, the following is useful to help understand this.

Imagine that what you are letting go of is in a room. Now walk out of that room, and close the door behind you, but don’t let go of the doorknob. Are you able to move forward? It doesn’t matter how many new doors are open in front of you. It doesn’t matter what they offer. If you are unable or unwilling to let go–to experience catharsis–you have no chance of moving forward to those new possibilities.

Why is catharsis necessary to let go?

Whether in a healthy or dysfunctional environment, over time we settle into a set of expectations. We establish a relationship with the elements of the environment: the people; the behaviors; perhaps the sounds, the temperature, the smells. We may deeply engage with it, or find a way of being disconnected even when in its midst. We know the patterns, the pace, the rhythm.

Perhaps it is an environment of our own making. A relationship with a significant other, maybe a family. Or an organization that we have “grown up in,” advancing into a position of authority where we have spent decades shaping it into what it is today. We “know the drill;” it has our best insights, experiences, mistakes, and successes embedded in it.

And now it is going to change. Dramatically.

Letting go of any relationship that has these kinds of roots in us is not an intellectual exercise. Is there an intellectual component? Of course. But there is so much more.

The paradox that makes this so hard for business leaders is that they are called on to destroy that which they have created so that it can survive and thrive. “The old paradigm is dead. Long live the new paradigm.” Those who cannot make this transition–truly change the way in which they relate to the past so that they can fully invest themselves in creating the new–will not succeed. Nor will the change they are trying to drive. There is a reason they are called leaders. If they are unable or unwilling to transform themselves, they cannot lead the transformation of their organizations.

It’s no different for personal change. Often in working with clients who are going through a highly disruptive personal change, we will work to create a ritual of letting go. (I have also done this with a few organizational clients.) They find that they need to mourn the past–even if it contains a long and dysfunctional history–in order to embrace the journey into the future.

Often, the bright promise of the future–personal and/or organizational–offers a compelling pull. But we can only move so far toward it without letting go of what is behind us. And, at the end of the day, that letting go is never easy. If we are to truly let it go, there may be a physical component to what we have to release. It may or may not include a spiritual element. And, in that letting go there will always be catharsis.

What is your experience with catharsis and change? Comment on this blog. Share your experiences.





Do You Really Have To Make This Change?


thin no circleBig change takes a big investment. It requires time, money, physical, emotional, and often spiritual energy. It requires saying “No” to things that are important so that you are able to say yes to the change. It’s risky, and success is never guaranteed.

As we discussed in an earlier post (Anchors, Aweigh!), making a major change requires reexamining the relationship that you have with the various anchors in your life: people, places, things… In some cases you will need to let go of old anchors, and form new ones. You may need to change your relationship with some of your anchors, becoming closer or more distant, more or less intimate, more or less engaged.

Major change requires changes in the way we look at, and think about, things. It requires us to do things differently. Perhaps we need to learn new skills, to engage with other people in different ways, or even to shift the way that we think about–and relate to–our own body.

Big change is tough; it is demanding; it is hard.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You’ve been laid off. Your company is relocating. You experience a serious health issue. When change is thrust on you in this way, change is going to happen… Take charge of it.Approach it as a victor, not a victim.

But when you do have a choice, think it over carefully. Talk it over with unbiased others. Ask yourself, Do I really have to make this change? What is the price I will pay if I do not? 

Sometimes, the most important thing I can do for a client is to help her think through a change that she is ready to charge into…and have her realize that doing so is  a good idea, but is not imperative. Sometimes, I help a client come to the answer that, No, I don’t really have to make this change. I am better off not investing in it.

Have you said no to change? What were the circumstances? What was the result? Were there times when you should have said no to a change and didn’t? Share your experience.

Where Are Your Boundaries?


iStock_000007069075SmallOne of two things often happens when we become deeply engaged in a change. We develop impermeable boundaries that can end up shutting out those whose support we need most; or we feel guilty for the time and other investments we are making in the change, and we end up with Swiss cheese for boundaries.

Both options put the change at high risk for failure.

Let’s look at the risks associated with establishing boundaries that are too restrictive.

First and foremost, really big changes are not solo expeditions. (Even if your change is about you going on a solo expedition, you will need incredible support in your preparation; it will be important to know that support is there while you are on the journey; and you will welcome the support on your return.) Boundaries that shut people out–make them feel devalued–lessen the likelihood that they will build commitment to the change.

Enrolling people in support of the change requires ongoing dialogue; if the only time that dialogue can occur is when you “let people in,” it is unlikely that the dialogue will be meaningful. And, it is unlikely that they will be deeply enrolled in supporting your change.

If your change is a big one, you most likely have neither the understanding nor the skills to pull it off alone. You need the candid advice of others. Making it difficult for them to give that advice makes it less likely that they will bother trying.

If you set your boundaries too loosely, you will never reach your destination. There will be clamors for your attention–and energy–from every direction. Those who don’t want you to go forward with the change will seek to make their arguments heard at every opportunity. Those who want changes to the change, or the way it is being implemented, will plead their cause again and again and again. And then there are those who call on you for the myriad reasons in your life other than this change. Just because the change is a major one in your life, it doesn’t mean that they will stop their demands for your time and attention around other matters.

Even if you don’t always yield to the demand, the effort required to turn away is effort taken from your change. The energy required to sift through the cacophony is energy down the drain.

Exhaustion, frustration, and lack of momentum are all likely results of a  set of boundaries that is too loose.

When it comes to setting boundaries as you move into and through your change, the Goldilocks principle applies: not too hard, not too soft, you need to find the balance that is just right.

What this really means is that your boundaries will shift from time to time. There may be points along the way where you need to “go off the grid” in order to reflect, or write, or make tough decisions.

There may be people whose relationship to you needs to change (remember my blog Anchors, Aweigh); a significant part of shifting those relationships is the redefinition of the boundaries between you.

You may need to open the boundaries to people, and to ideas, that are foreign to you, but that are capable of informing your change if you let them in.

There is no science to setting boundaries during your change. But that doesn’t mean it should occur haphazardly. Think it through. Plan it. Test it. Adjust it. Fine tune it. Remain aware of your boundaries, of how they are supporting your change efforts, and how they are undermining you.

What have you learned about boundaries in your change journeys? Share your lessons with others.

Balance Is More Than Not Falling Down



Be open to action, and to reflection.

Be open to holding on, and to letting go.

Be open to knowing, and to not knowing.

Be open to doing, and to not doing.

In 2007 I took a Himalayan pilgrimage. Over the eight months before I left, I invested in preparing myself for the experience. While those preparations began in the gym, I soon realized that this journey would require more than physical training; it would require mental and spiritual preparation as well.

One day early in my preparations I met a friend for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. When the check came, I opened my fortune cookie. It read,

Balance is more than not falling down. 

Wherever you are on your change journey, there is an important lesson here. It is a lesson that applies in so many ways that one could probably blog about it for months. (As my son says, “No worries.” I am just going to highlight a few of them, and move on to another topic next week. I trust you to draw from your own experiences to add to the lessons that I am offering here.)

Just as my pilgrimage required me to call on my physical, spiritual, and mental energy, each change journey makes its own unique energetic demands on us. It may challenge long-held beliefs and practices. It may require us to re-frame our relationship to others, or to work, or to religious or spiritual or political beliefs. Whatever the change, it is likely that successfully completing the journey will not be possible with one shift; rather, multiple shifts will be required.

Perhaps you are still committed to that New Year’s resolution that resulted in a new gym membership. While the gym may be an important element in loosing weight and developing the body that you want, it cannot be the only one if you are to succeed. Doing so may also require you to change your relationship to your body: how you see it, what you expect of it, and/or how you treat it. That’s why I have never understood those people who walk out of the gym and light up a cigarette, or the ones who spend their entire workout telling their buddies about how much they drank over the weekend. It’s not just about the workout.

Balance is more than not falling down.

“Play to your strengths.” There is one theory of change that suggests this is exactly the way to go; build on strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. Another suggests that you should focus on your vulnerabilities, or they will undermine your success; manage them as risks, or risk failing.

Who is right?

In my experience, both are. When the going gets tough, we each tend to play to our strong suit. Perhaps you’re known for making decisions, or taking action, or planning, or anticipating problems, or… And, sometimes your strong suit is exactly what is needed at that point in time.

But sometimes, what is needed is the opposite; sometimes what is needed is your weakness. Perhaps you are strong on reflecting, on finding the solution through a long and deep contemplative process; but circumstances warrant quick decisions and action. Maybe you are known for holding on to things that have had meaning in the past, sustaining traditions or heirlooms, or beliefs; but circumstances call for letting go of these things before the door closes on the opportunity to complete the change.

Balance is more than not falling down. 

Do you know your strengths, and your vulnerabilities? Do you consciously choose when to call on each?

Are you at the action gym, or the reflection gym, or the decision gym, becoming the ever-more-masterful exerciser of your strengths? Or, are you at the action gym, or the reflection gym, or the decision gym, working on your vulnerabilities to bring them more into balance with your strengths?

Balance is more than not falling down. 

Balance is leveraging your strengths, and strengthening your weaknesses. It is knowing the full range of resources that you have available to you, and calling on each when appropriate.

Balance is being open to action, and to reflection. Balance is being open to holding on, and to letting go. Balance is being open to knowing, and to not knowing. Balance is being open to doing, and to not doing.

Balance is more than not falling down. 

What is your experience with balance–or the lack of it–when approaching change?



dont do it!STOP!

It’s so easy to say. It’s so hard to do. During change it’s often missed, forgotten about, skipped over, avoided, or put on the back burner. Yet it’s so critical to succeeding at your change.

Why is “stop” so important? It’s simple. Nothing is infinite. Time. Money. Open-heartedness. Energy. Focus. Capacity to adapt to change. Everything has limits. And, unless you are in the unusual position of being blessed with everything that you need to achieve your change without putting anything else aside, you need to think about–and act on–STOP.

First, a brief history lesson.

One of the forefathers of change management was William Bridges. More than 35 years ago, Bridges published Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Changes. Among the topics he covered: “stops, starts, stays.”

Addressing what you are going to start doing is a topic we have discussed before in several posts. The same is true about your anchors, the “stays.” However, we have said little about the “stops” until now.

Without STOP, you may start, but it is unlikely you will achieve lasting success. So, how do you decide what to stop during change? This post focuses on personal change; the process for executing “stop” in organizations is quite similar. (If you are interested in learning more about this, let me know and I can walk you through it.)

First, it is important to know what you are going to need more of in order to succeed. For purposes of this blog, let’s say that your change is going to require time, focus, a financial investment, and ability to adapt to change. (Don’t forget this last one…it is vitally important!)

Quantify them: let’s say you will need 15 hours/week of absolute focus; virtually all of your adaptation capacity, given how big the change is; and to cut your discretionary spending by 25%.

Now you are going to have to decide where these things are going to come from. None is available in the hall closet or on the store shelf. So what do you stop to free them up?

Begin with the time-wasters; that’s an easy one. Most of us have things we do, whether in our work lives or on our own time, that waste time. Perhaps you take public transportation, and spend 4 hours a week playing Sudoko during your commute. If that is 4 hours that you can invest in your change–and playing Sudoko is not a mental or spiritual practice–you are a quarter of the way there; but if its you can’t invest the time in this change, keep Sudoko going. (You don’t need more change.)

If the change is very big, chances are the time-wasters are not going to free up the time, focus, and financial resources that are needed; and, they don’t free up any adaptation capacity. So, now you have to start looking at the important things that you are doing.

Begin by listing them all out. Perhaps you go out weekly with close friends. One of my clients refers to these people as his “heart friends;” they are the people who are there for him through thick and thin. You spend time every week reading; sometimes it is casual and relaxing, and at other times it is work-related. Then there is the weekly sports activity: softball in the summer, bowling fall through spring. Finally, there are the plans you have been developing to launch your own business. None of these are the big change you are preparing for as you consider your “stops,” yet each of them is important.

Again, look at each one in terms of the resources you need to set free. Some of them require time, but not adaptation capacity; planning to launch your business has been burning adaptation capacity as well as time.

You may find something, or things, to stop that will free up the resources that you need. Or, perhaps, you just slow something down; for example, you may decide to move to every other week dining with heart friends, and talk with them about rotating hosting the dinners rather than going out. In this way you are freeing up some of the time, and some of the financial resources.

You will also need to put your personal business plans on hold. Right now, they are eating up adaptation capacity, and you have determined that you will need all of this you can muster.

What happens if you have squeezed all of the adaptation capacity, time, focus, and discretionary dollars you can out of the important things in your life, and it’s still not enough?

Now it is time to get to the really tough choices. Do you make adjustments to the new change that you are trying to launch so that the resources you have freed up are enough? Do you cut back on the time that you spend with your family? Do you postpone the vacation that you have been promising the family (and for which you have been planning together) over the past nine months? Do you set aside your spiritual practice to free up that time? Do you turn down the promotion that you have been offered that will increase your income, but demand additional adaptation capacity, time and focus?

If it is imperative that you succeed at this change, all of the above need to be on the table. If you can’t find enough to stop in order to free up all of the things that you will need, then it is quite simple. Prepare to fail. You may get part of the way there; you may get most of the way. But, no matter how important the change, no matter how much you believe in it, no matter what success means, if you don’t have the resources and the adaptation capacity to succeed, success is not possible.

Don’t breathe too easily. If you have freed up what you need, you still can’t rest easy. STOP is not “once and done.”

Now it is important to maintain vigilance. Things creep in. Perhaps a family member comes to you with a request for piano lessons, or a gym membership. Maybe the office moves, adding to your commute time (and eating up some of the time you have freed up for this change). Your mechanic is recommending that you replace the car, rather than the transmission. None of these has anything to do with the change that is your imperative; each of them puts it at risk.

Set aside time on a regular basis to assess whether you need to  reassess your”stop” decisions again, whether you need to rethink your change, or whether you are still on track.

Share what you have learned in your experience about STOP and its impact on your change efforts.

Resistance Is!


iStock_000004140332SmallResistance happens.

Whether you want to take this change journey or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether it was your idea or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether you see this as a negative change, or as a positive one, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting. Ditto for those around you who are affected by the change.

And, sometimes our strongest resistance (often expressed as “I can’t…”, see below) arises with the changes that are most important to us.

The truth is, resistance happens. It is a part of the change journey.

We have talked about this a little bit in earlier posts; let’s dive into it deeper today.

While it can take many forms–from gossip to work slowdowns, from subterfuge to immobilization–at its root, resistance is the result of unwillingness and/or inability.

It is easy to understand resistance when you (and/or others) see the change as negative. But why do we resist changes that you initiate, that we think are good ideas…or even true imperatives? The answer is actually pretty simple. At some point we begin to resist because we find out what the cost of the change is really going to be. (The cost might be financial, but it is generally much more. It might include a cost in prestige, or in relationships that have anchored you for years, or time, or in having to let go of other things you want to do, etc.)

When I first began training in change many years ago, Daryl Conner provided important guidance that I still use today. “The cost of the status quo must be significantly greater than the cost of the transition, or you will start the change journey but will not complete it.” 

With this in mind, it is critical that as you prepare for your change, you not only look at the opportunities that it offers if you are successful. You also need to be very honest with yourself and others about the cost of making the transition…and the cost of not doing so!

Resistance’s other root cause is ability. You just may not have the skills or other resources that you discover you need if you are to be successful. Skill development may require training (if you need to do it yourself), or hiring others to perform the needed tasks. Either way, once again we are back to cost.

Finally, if you need other resources (whether that be equipment, or facilities, or software, or…), there will be a cost. Either you find, free up, or in some other way obtain those resources, or you redefine the change to something that is achievable with the resources that you do have.

There is one more important note about ability. Often you will hear, or you may even be the one saying, “I can’t…” Don’t take “I can’t” at face value! All too often, what it really means is, “I won’t.”  “I can’t” is about ability. “I won’t” is about willingness. When faced with a really difficult task, “I can’t do it.” may actually be offered as the rationale for not having the courage to do it. 

All too often, we see resistance as a sign of something going wrong. It isn’t. Resistance during major change is inevitable. Something is going wrong if you don’t see it, don’t feel it. Either the change is not really moving forward, or the resistance is playing out underground.

Surfacing resistance, and being clear about the willingness and/or ability causes that underlie it, will help you to continue to move the change forward. Ignoring it, or treating it as a distraction, will leave you short of achieving the change you have set our for yourself.

What is your experience with resistance?