How Are You Showing Up?



white room centeredHow did you show up today? What about yesterday? Is there any reason to expect that you will show up any differently tomorrow?

During change, how you show up makes a difference for the journey, and for the outcome. It makes a difference for you. And, it makes a difference for those who are influenced by you–whether formally or informally–along the way.

Super Hero: The super-hero is often a Type-A. He arrives with all of the answers, with the strength to do whatever it takes, and with no time to waste. If there is any emotion, it is generally anger: anger at mistakes others make (he doesn’t make mistakes); anger at things not going according to plan; anger at counsel he doesn’t want to hear.

Super-Heroes may make good protagonists in film and pulp fiction. They do not make good change leaders or facilitators. If you are engaged in a big change, you are not going to be able to anticipate everything; you won’t have all the answers. Others will make mistakes. So will you. Time is well spent in reflection, thoughtful consideration, and serious dialogue, not constantly racing forward. Sometimes the best advice you can get is absolutely what you wish you weren’t hearing. Real change can generate anger. But it also generates laughter, tears, joy, sorrow…the full gamut of emotions comes into play along the way.

Preacher: The preacher sees the change as affecting the rank-and-file. “You have to change,” she extols every chance she gets. “This isn’t going to work unless you get on board.” “We need you going all out to make the needed changes on time and within budget.”

People listen to preachers. Then, sometimes, they ask questions. They ask, “Don’t you have to change too, Preacher?” They ask, “Is this, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’?”  They ask, “Why does all the change roll downhill?” Big change isn’t just about everyone else. If it’s your change, it has to start with you.

Lackadaisical Leader: She’s sent out the word. This change is really big. It is really important. It is “make or break.” We all need to take it seriously. We all need to keep it at the forefront of our thinking, and our doing. Yes, we have to keep doing what we have been doing. And, we have to do whatever this change demands as well. There is no way around it.

Then she returns to running the business. “People will tell me if there’s a problem,” she thinks. “I get my weekly/bi-weekly/monthly updates; if an emergency pops up in-between, I’m sure I will know about it right away.”

If this change is genuinely important, act that way. Ask questions every time you see someone who is working on executing it. Make it a priority on every phone call, in every email, and on each meeting’s agenda. Know what is going on.

Teammate: He wants everyone to feel like they are part of the decisions, not just part of the execution. He huddles for hours, listening, exploring, questioning, waiting for a decision to emerge. When it doesn’t, he schedules the next huddle.

There is a role for the team in the change. And, there is a role for the leader. As a change leader, you need to listen, explore, and question. You need to seek out the counsel of the best and the brightest. And, you need to lead. You need to make tough decisions. You need to move the change forward.

Charismatic: People will follow her to the ends of the earth. She has that undefinable characteristic about her that draws people in and holds them there. She can lead them to a spectacular success, or to a devastating failure; they’ll follow her anywhere.

Unfortunately, that’s not what you need. Yes, you want people to follow your lead. But you don’t want them to do so blindly. You want them to question, to challenge, to voice their concerns so that you can address them. You want them to point out when you are about to make (or have made) a wrong turn. You want them committed first and foremost to the future, to the successful execution of the change, not to you.

Clearly, there are other ways to show up during change. Some will contribute to a successful journey; some will not. Here are some ways you might consider as you think about how you show up.

  • Courageous
  • Disciplined
  • Focused
  • Committed
  • Reflective
  • Engaged
  • Empathetic
  • In touch
  • Decisive
  • Positive
  • Equanimous
  • Passionate

    What other ways might you consider showing up? Add your thoughts 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.





When It Comes to Change, There Is No Immunity.


vaccineChange: A Disruption in expectations. You think it’s going to be sunny, and get caught in a rain shower. You plan on retiring from the employer you have been with for twenty years, and find out they are closing their US operations. You are contacted by a recruiter who is asking you to apply for a position that would be a significant promotion.


What you see as a minor change may be significant to me. What I see as a positive change may be a negative change to you.

Change is an inherent part of life. There is no immunity. Whether it is a personal change or work-related, there are an almost infinite number of adjustments that are made just to maintain the status quo. You spend a little more than you had planned on your children’s back-to-school wardrobe, and cut back for a week or two on the grocery bill. Sales are up for the third quarter, and you treat your sales department to an unexpected night on the town. The old service delivery model is not working as well as it used to, but there is another tweak that can be made to help it last a bit longer. Sometimes the changes are that minor, and sometimes they are transformational.


Some people will tell you they avoid change as much as possible. Others will tell you that they embrace change.

I am one of the latter, so let me tell you what that really means to me. I look forward to the challenges of change. I look forward to the lessons that I will learn, the growth that I will experience, in going through my own change or guiding another through change. i look forward to the opportunity of sharing my forty years of change experience with others so that they can learn what I know, and I can continue to learn and grow. 

Let me tell you what else it means. I look forward to change selectively…Not coming at me from every direction, not thrust on me unexpectedly by others. I look forward to enough change to keep me challenged, but not so much change that it overwhelms me. I look forward to change when I am able to balance it with stability and equanimity at the same time.


There is no immunity.

There are, however, inoculations that will help reduce its impact.

First, no matter who initiated the change, don’t allow yourself to be victimized by it. You may not be able to call for the hand to be re-dealt. You can control how you respond to the hand that you get.

Next, learn the patterns of human response to change. Knowing how you and those around you will be responding as you travel through the life cycle of a change gives you back some sense of control. You can be prepared for the response. Perhaps you can even be doing something to accelerate it if doing so will help move the change forward more quickly. Or, you can take steps to mitigate it, if the next step in the pattern (left unaddressed) will disrupt the forward momentum of the change.

As an example of the former, knowing that “experimentation” follows “positive perception” when you are building commitment to a change, you might develop a means for your early adapters to begin to experiment with the new tablets before you roll them out across the organization. As an example of the latter, knowing that resistance is inevitable in the case of major change, and knowing that resistance is driven by either willingness or ability, you may focus early on communicating what will be done to help people develop the skills they will need to succeed with the change.

The third way that you can reduce the disruption of change is to strengthen your own resilience, the resilience of those around you, and–for organizational change–the resilience of those throughout the organization.

Resilience is the ability to re-calibrate to disruptions with minimal impact on your productivity or the quality of the work that you do. In essence, what this means is that the more resilient a person is, the more quickly they can be back to 100%, and the less what they are doing will suffer in the interim.

We will be covering more about resilience in future posts. In the meantime, know that: while each of us starts with a baseline of resilience, there are ways that it can be strengthened; when working with other people, it is possible to build on the resilience strengths that each of you brings; and it is possible to hire for resilience. This is always a good idea, since whatever skills the individual is bringing to the job will most likely become obsolete sooner rather than later; you want people who are able to re-calibrate to your changing needs.

If you want to find out more about resilience before I post on it again, feel free to contact me directly. Also, check out Dr. Linda Hoopes’ radio blog and her website.

What are you doing to help reduce the disruptive impact of change? Comment below. Share your experiences.





Prepare For Your Journey.


iStock_000019172316SmallOne of my favorite authors is Phil Cousineau. In The Art of Pilgrimage he writes, “If you don’t take the time to sit and reflect before you leave, you’ll surely be remembering what you’ve forgotten on the way to the airport or on the plane. By then its too late. This tends to be true for what goes into your bags as well as what goes into your heart about your journey.”

This quote came to mind earlier today as I sat down to categorize my blog posts. There are 40 of them now, so I felt it was time to give them some structure. I have had the framework in mind for some time now: 1) Create Your Change Story; 2) Plan the Journey; 3) Prepare for the Journey; 4) Take the Journey; 5) Return Home. I have not yet written anything on the return home. You can access each of the other four “chapters” using the menu to your left.

I knew when I began to categorize them that some of the posts were likely to fall into two or more categories. While I lift things out to talk about them in each post, they are really interwoven with one another, and often apply across a considerable distance in the change process.

What did catch me a bit off guard–though as I reflect on it is not that surprising–is how many posts are about preparing for the journey. Why is this?

Most of us approach change (personal and organizational) with some understanding of where it is taking us, and a belief that we know what to do do get there. There’s a strategy, a goal, or outcomes of some sort that we are seeking to achieve. And, there’s a plan to execute in order to achieve the desired end result. (In fact, as many of the posts in Create Your Change Story, Plan the Journey, and Take the Journey reveal, we’re not always well prepared in these areas either; but, we tend to think we are.)

Rarely, however, do we focus on fully preparing for the journey itself. We may make physical preparations (e.g. get a passport, purchase tickets, reserve lodging for travel; meet with a career coach, research certification options, register for classes for a career change). But that is not enough. “Being ready mentally, spiritually, and physically makes us lighter on our feet, more adroit at making decisions, and perhaps can even keep chaos at bay,” (Art of Pilgrimage).

Preparing for your journey means more than packing the bags, or selecting a path forward. The change journey itself is a “whole person” experience; no aspect of your being is left untouched by a difficult change. Fail to prepare any aspect of your being, and you are putting success at risk.

And, it’s not enough to prepare yourself for the journey. Those who are making it with you require preparation as well. Knowing where you are going, what the journey will be like, how you will be measuring progress, what is changing and what is not, what role each person will play in the change process, what will be done to help them be successful with the change…all these things and more give people a greater sense of stability and control. Each one contributes to the preparation.

Here are a few of the questions you will need to address. (Guidance on many of these is provided in the Prepare for the Journey section of the blog.)

  • Do you really have to make this change, or is it just a good (maybe really, really good) idea? (post)
  • How bad does it hurt to not make the change? (post)
  • Are you talking with the right people? (not)
  • What needs to change about how you and others think, both to make the journey and to maintain success once it is completed? (within multiple posts)
  • What needs to change about how you and others act, both to make the journey and to maintain success once it is completed? (within multiple posts)
  • What are your anchors, and how will your relationship with them have to change in order for the change to succeed? (post)
  • What do you need to do in order to be prepared for the resistance that will inevitably arise during the change journey? (post)
  • Where are your boundaries? (post)
  • What plateaus will you be visiting along the way, and how will you utilize your time on them? (post)
  • how are you going to maintain your balance? (post)
  • Do you have enough discipline to succeed? If not, what options are there for developing more, or for making the change less demanding? (posts)
  • Do you have the courage the change will require for success? If not, what options are there for developing more, or for making the change less demanding? (post)
  • Who do you need to enlist in the change? How and when will you do that? (post)
  • Are you prepared to effectively utilize both one-way and two-way communication…at the right times, in the right ways, with the right messages? (posts)
  • What are you going to stop and or slow down so that you have everything that is required (time, resources, change adaptation capacity, etc.) to succeed with this change? (post)
  • Who do you need to listen to in order to be successful? (post)
  • Are people–including you–prepared for the catharsis that is an inevitable part of big changes? (post)
  • Are you prepared to commit to outcomes, and not just actions? (post)
  • Do you know when to trust, and when to not trust, your intuition? (post)
  • Are you prepared to make mistakes, own up to and learn from them, and move on with the change?
  • Are you prepared to tell the change story? Is the change story prepared to be told? (posts)
  • And, at every step of the way, are you prepared for what comes next in the change process? 

When you are planning the journey, don’t forget to plan for the preparation. Without it, you may travel somewhere. But it is unlikely you will reach the destination you set out to attain.

What do you do to prepare for difficult change? Share your story.




Work Your Plan One Week at a Time.


calendarUndertaking a big change is daunting; it can seem overwhelming. In past blogs we have talked about different aspects of planning. Today the focus is on executing against that plan.

In general, my recommendation is to work your plan one week at a time. (Here I am focusing on change at the individual level…if you are leading your organization through change, much of what I am offering here can be applied–with some translation–as well.)

Momentum is important during change. Move too fast and you may get all of the pieces in place, but never achieve the actual outcomes that you are seeking. Move too slow, and your change is likely to grind to a halt.

Taking a week-by-week approach, with your installation (what you are putting in place) and realization (what you are actually setting out to achieve) milestones in mind helps to maintain momentum. Think about it. In the next month I am going to update my resume doesn’t quite drive action the same way as This week I am going to make 15 networking calls. 

You may or may not have any realization milestones that you plan to meet each week; you should definitely have installation milestones for yourself. Quoting from Wikipedia, “A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary…Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination.”

Using milestones on a weekly basis allows you to know not only that you are actively doing things, but that you are on “the proper path.”

So why not create milestones for every day?

Generally, unless you are in a position to control virtually every aspect of your day, daily milestones become burdensome; they are too easy to not achieve as other day-to-day things come up; and, the discouragement of not achieving them can drain energy and actually get in the way of forward momentum.

That being said, I will sometimes work with a client to create “buckets of activity,” with the goal of accomplishing something out of each bucket on a daily basis. For example, someone who is looking to build a brand presence using social media might have one bucket for Twitter, one for LinkedIn, one for their business’s Facebook page, etc. Rather than spending every spare minute for a week strengthening their LinkedIn presence–and losing connection with their followers on the other media–my recommendation is to ensure that they do at least one thing out of each of the other buckets every day as well.

Your weekly milestones allow you flexibility over when you undertake your change-related tasks. If today is lost to unexpected overtime at work, or unanticipated disruptions at home (or both), you still have the remainder of the week to complete the work that you have set out for yourself.

What happens if, week after week, you are not meeting your milestones? If you find yourself in this situation, it is likely that one of two things is going on.

  1. You are setting your weekly expectations too aggressively relative to what you are able to deliver. You either need to re-calibrate your expectations of what you can get done in a week, or you need to look at what you can take off the plate so that you can meet your targets. Then, you need to actually take things off the plate!
  2. Your change is a good idea, but not imperative. The other things in your life that are taking your time, energy, focus, etc. away from this change outweigh the importance of the change you are working on. It is time to either lower your expectations for this change, or to put it aside.

If, on the other hand, you are completing everything you have set out to achieve mid-week each week, you should be accelerating your plan.

There is another reason to work your plan one week at a time…things don’t always go as planned. I am currently working with a client whose “buckets” include addressing certain aspects of his health. When he encountered an unanticipated delay in his surgery he had two choices…push his entire plan back by months, or accelerate other aspects of the plan to fill in the intervening weeks. My encouragement is, always, to maintain the forward momentum.

Finally, working your plan one week at a time helps you maintain your boundaries. It tells you when to take a break and rest for the next week; it helps you to avoid burn-out. When the only thing that we have in mind is the desired end state, the urge to be constantly working can drive us in unhealthy ways. Being able to say, I have accomplished what I set out to do this week. I am proud of myself, and can see the progress. And, now I deserve a break, is a much healthier approach.

For a mini-case study of how I applied this approach to a major change in my life, email me at [email protected]

What is your experience when working your change plans? Please comment, and/or add your own story.



For the past ten years I have  assisted at a workshop fBrian by Burt screenor men. Over the course of two days, the participants develop a deeper connection to themselves as they explore a number of aspects of their lives. For me, these weekends are meaningful both for the service I am able to provide to others, and for the reflection they foster in me.

Many of the topics we address draw different responses from me at different workshops. One consistently draws the same answer. The instruction is to discuss the gifts you received from your father. While there are many, the one that is always at the fore for me: Self-Discipline.

Both of my parents worked. By the time I was in junior high school, I worked after school as a bicycle delivery boy; while I kept my tips, my earnings ($0.35 for in-town deliveries, $0.50 for out-of-town) went directly into a college fund. I began working at Boy Scout camp in the summers when I was 14 or 15. My siblings and I shared chores at home: dishes, garbage, walking the dog, housecleaning, taking care of the yard. There was homework, Boy Scouts, church and acolyte service on Sundays.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have time to play, or to have fun, when growing up. I certainly did. But it underscores the important lesson that I learned. You need to work in order to achieve your goals. And, doing the work that needs to be done requires a great deal of self-discipline. It is a lesson that I carry with me to this day.

Big changes are tough. As we discussed last week, they take courage. They also take a great deal of self-discipline. They don’t happen overnight. Other important things come up, calling for your time and attention. They require physical, mental, and emotional energy…sometimes every ounce that you can muster. They require the discipline to say “No” to some things so that you can say “Yes” to this one. They require the discipline to make hard choices, difficult decisions. They require the discipline (along with the courage) to take difficult action.They require the discipline to get up each time you fall down, to draw the lesson from each mistake and continue to forge forward.

They also require the discipline of self-care, of setting boundaries, of avoiding burn-out. They require the discipline of celebrating progress along the way, of sharing successes. They require the discipline of reflection. They require the discipline of making time to have fun. And, they require the discipline of getting “back to the task at hand.”

What is your experience with self-discipline within the context of change?