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.

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.



Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge.


This is a personal story.

In 2009 I began mentoring a high school student. The initial connection was our shared interest in photography, but a large part of the mentoring grew out of the abuse Brandon was experiencing at home, and the assaults he, as a gay man, was suffering at school. Two years later I took him in when his family threw him out of his home. Today Brandon is my son, legally as well as emotionally.

This week we were interviewed by Dr. Linda Hoopes on her program, Resilience Radio. Listen to our story, and the role that resilience played, using the link below.

Resilience Radio Interview with Dr. Linda Hoopes

What’s In Your Change Portfolio?


Competition Whith a Business Man and a Business Woman

Unless you are actively involved in the field of project management, change management, or strategy, it is unlikely that you think in terms of a change portfolio. If the change that you are facing–or are currently engaged in–is personal, it is even less likely that a “portfolio” is in your frame of reference.

Unfortunately, that puts your change effort at significant risk.

Let’s begin by taking a minute to define what is meant by “change portfolio.” Simply put, it is all of those things that need to shift in order to deliver the intended outcome of your change. You may hear different language…projects, programs, work streams, change components. Each of these has its own meaning. But for us, focusing on change at the individual or small organization level, it’s enough to talk about “all the changes we have to make.”

Several months ago, we focused on a key message from Simon Sinek and others… Start with what’s in your heart. (see Don’t Start With a Plan.) We spent several blogs talking about the creation, and the telling, of your change story. These are important precursors to creating your change portfolio. Only when you know where you are going, and what it is going to be like once you get there, can you know what needs to change along the way.

There are several ways you may go about identifying what is in your change portfolio at this point. The process may vary, depending on the scope of what you are trying to change, whether the change is personal or organizational, and so forth. (Feel free to contact me offline if you want to discuss your situation.) But however you approach it, I would suggest you factor in the following.

  • What element(s) of the outcome does each of the changes contribute to?
  • For each change that is identified, how difficult will it be to execute, how critical is it, and how much will it contribute to the outcome?
  • If is is difficult and less-than-critical, can it be cut from the portfolio?
  • If it is easy, and less-than-critical, can it be cut from the portfolio?
  • When you look at all of the changes in the portfolio, will they deliver the outcomes you are seeking, or is something missing?

    I recommend some form of white board/index cards/sticky notes process. And, I recommend having a bottle of aspirin nearby. This is one of those “Oh, S!*#” moments…when you begin to have some real in-depth understanding about what it will really take to succeed with the change.

    The next question to ask yourself is, What other changes are going on? Why? Quite simply, each one eats up something: time, money, psychic energy, focus, the ability to adapt to change. As much as is possible, you should consider terminating, reducing in scope, or delaying them so that they don’t interfere with the important change that you are addressing.

    Now, come back to your portfolio. It may contain 10, 20, 30, or more changes. As I noted earlier, it is likely that it frightened you (and anyone engaged in the process of defining it with you) when you first worked through what is in the portfolio. Introducing the portfolio to others will be just as frightening. So, before you do, see if you can weave some of the changes together.

For example, perhaps your change is a major shift in career. You’ve identified a series of changes that you need to make related to preparing yourself for the new career (select a program of study, enroll in night school, complete the program, obtain employment, earn certification, etc.). There may be another set of changes related to financing this shift (reduce budgeted expenses by 15%, obtain a student loan, etc.). And, there may be others…

By weaving the related changes together, you can begin to focus on “the path to career readiness” and “laying the financial foundation.”  While initiating your change portfolio at that aggregate a level is dangerous (you don’t know what is really required for success), rolling things back up to that level once you have defined the portfolio makes it much more palatable.

Have you ever taken a change portfolio approach to your personal or small business change? What has been your experience? Please comment, and share your own experiences.

Enlist People In Your Change!


Friendly chatWe’ve talked about the role that one-way and two-way communication can play in the success of your change. But sometimes, communication isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to enlist people to support the change.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to enlist people.

The first step is to identify those you need to enlist. Whether the change is personal or organizational, it isn’t everyone. Because enlisting is time (and resource) intensive, you want to be selective.

Within organization’s, it is easier to identify your enlistment “targets;” they are the top ranks of your leadership, those whose active–and supportive–engagement you need in order to cascade the change through the organization.

There is a second, and more difficult to identify, group…those who are influencers, even though they may not hold a formal leadership or management role. We will be exploring the influencer’s role, and how to identify these individuals, in an upcoming post. For now, ask yourself who are the people that Emma Employee will point to and say, She’s not on board with this change, so I’m not ready to commit to it either. These are the influencers you need to enlist.

At the personal change level it is unlikely that there is much (if any) “leadership cascade.” So here your focus may be exclusively on identifying the influencers. Begin with these questions: 1) Whose support do I need to make this change successful? 2) To whom will these people turn for guidance and direction related to this change? The people you identify in response to the second question are the people you need to enlist.

{NOTE: The enlistment process as I describe it here is based on Conner Partners’ enrollment process; while I have tailored it to address individuals as well as organizations, the fundamental principles and questions are the same.)

There are three principles that are critical to enlistment.

First, it is a dialogue. Begin by laying out the intent of the change. Here you may want to reference, or even tell, your change story (as discussed in earlier posts). Allow, and encourage, clarifying questions.

Second, it is face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. This is not something that can be done long distance.

Third, your focus is on building their understanding of, and commitment to, your change.

Once you have laid out the change, there are three questions that you want to ask. Their sequence is important, because it helps frame how people will respond to what you have told them.

First, ask What do you like most about what I have told you? 

Second, ask What do you want to challenge? Note that this is not “What don’t you like? or “What would you change?” The question “What do you want to challenge?” makes clear that while you are open to hearing their voice, you are the decision-maker.

Third, ask What else should I (we) consider as the change moves forward? 


If you are not clear about what is being said, ask clarifying questions.


Don’t judge. Don’t reject what is being offered.


My recommendation is to give people time to reflect on what they have heard before you take the next step…which is enlisting them to take action in support of your change. Best is overnight…”Think about it over lunch” doesn’t give them enough time; “Let’s get back together next week” is more time than is needed.

When you get back together, be open to any questions they might have, answer them, and then ask for their commitment to support you. Be specific about what you want them to do, how you want them to express/demonstrate their commitment.

if you are applying this to a personal change, or working with influencers inside an organization, most of your enlistment sessions will be one-on-one. Different people will bring different perspectives to the change; you want to be able to tailor your responses to their individual frames of reference. (There may be times when a couple, or a group of friends, or members of a team you are on are enlisted together. Don’t rule it out…though it is usually not the norm.)

If you are enlisting the traditional organizational hierarchy, it is likely that you will enlist those who report to you. The action you will ask of them is to enlist those who report to them. Cascade the enlistment as far as your change warrants.

Have you ever been enlisted to support a change in this way? What was your experience?

Speaking of Communicating…


iStock_000005470737SmallIn earlier posts we talked about how to create and tell your change story. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a broader look at communicating your change. In particular, I want to address: one-way communication; two-way communication; enlisting; and aligning words and actions. Each has its place when used effectively, and when used in balance. There are blogs, books, videos, guides, and research articles on all of these topics, so we aren’t going into any of them in depth… I am, however, going to provide a few key points on each one that can make a significant difference in the success of your change journey, whether personal or organizational.

In this week’s post we look at one-way communication. This one can be–and very often is–used way too much.

There is a time and a place for the “rally to the cause speech.” Certainly Martin Luther King knew this, as did President Kennedy when he launched the mission to “land a man on the moon and bring him safely home.”  In many ways, each was telling their version of the change story. Perhaps you’ll be telling your story at a town hall meeting for an organizational change. For a personal change, you may do your telling at the dinner table, or gathered together in the living room. And, whether telling the story in a small gathering or large, it is important that you be fully present with your audience, that you interact with them, respond to them and the ways in which they are responding to you, even as you communicate to them.

Most often, one-way communication takes the form of directives. Sometimes they are straight-forward (Get everything on the punch list completed this week), and sometimes they are cloaked in more polite terms (I would really appreciate it if you would get everything on the punch list completed this week). In either case, there is no uncertainty about the expectation: complete the work on the punch list. Directives will often get you compliance; they don’t generally do much in terms of building commitment.

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 50, the owner of a small business, or driving your own personal transformational change, there is one critically important time when one-way communication–as a precursor to two-way communication–is essential.

Ultimately, in each of these circumstances, you are the person accountable for the success (or failure) of the change. You have listened to others, reflected on what is in your heart, and have made the decision to move forward. That decision has to be communicated clearly and unequivocally. This isn’t the time for I’ve been thinking about… or I was wondering, what if… It is time for, I have decided…

You may want to keep the door open for discussion on how to execute the change; in fact, this is something I would recommend and we will explore more in the next post. But, once the decision has been made, you don’t want to open it up to question and challenge.

Share you experience with one-way communication during change.

Who Do You Listen To?


Businessman in lonelinessWhen it comes to change, there is rarely a shortage of opinions, insights, ideas and suggestions that others have to offer. Who do you listen to?

Some people surround themselves with those who are always very supportive. If they have any question, any uncertainty, they are quickly assured that they are on the right track.

This can work well when in familiar and/or stable territory. it keeps us from wandering off course, investing our time, energy, and other resources in something that will distract us from our purpose.

It serves us less well, however, when venturing into unknown waters. Even those who might see danger ahead, or are able to provide us with cautionary advice, hesitate to do so. The message we have conveyed–intentional or not–is “don’t rock the boat.”

Others take counsel in a circle of friends or co-workers whose values and experiences are very much aligned with their own. In this environment, the dialogue is often more open and candid. People will call it as they see it.

While this is a better approach to seeking advice during change, it still carries a high risk. If everyone around you is looking at the world through the same lens as you are, it is rare that they will see things in a significantly different way. Once again, in uncharted territory this can be dangerous.

Several years ago, Daryl Conner and Linda Hoopes of Conner Partners extensively researched personal resilience. (Linda continues this research today through her organization, Resilience Alliance.). They identified a series of characteristics that distinguish more and less highly resilient people. One of those characteristics is “flexible social.” People who score high in this characteristic are likely to go outside their familiar circle of advisers when facing unfamiliar circumstances. They want to bring additional frames of reference to bear, to gain insights and understanding that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

If you take this approach, you need to be open to challenge. You have to suspend your judgment, and to consider alternative perspectives. You also have to have trust in those you are listening to. If what they have to offer is going to do more than “go in one ear and out the other,” you need to believe that they have credibility regarding whatever the topic may be.

My own approach is, perhaps, a bit of a hybrid. I have a small circle of people whom I refer to as my “heart friends.” These are the friends that will be there for me no matter what, 24/7, 365 days a year, without hesitation or question. When facing change, I will often consult one or more of them, to seek their insights and counsel.

At the same time, I don’t hesitate to go outside my comfort zone, to seek out others who might be knowledgeable in ways that will help to inform me. When I founded an AIDS nonprofit in the mid-90s I established an advisory board that included not only people in various AIDS-related fields. There was a futurist, who could help us think through alternative futures for a world living with AIDS. We had an IT professional who could offer guidance on the use of online bulletin boards to build community. Other advisers included a Catholic college president, a systems theory expert, and a consulting psychologist. Each brought a unique frame of reference as to how we might change America’s response to AIDS.

At the end of the day, listen to yourself.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs

Who do you listen to when approaching change? Comments and discussion are welcomed.