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.

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

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.

New Year’s Resolutions: Resolve for Results, Not Just Action.


happy_new_year_2015_vector_greeting_card_design_by_123freevectors-d89bgdfAre you one of those who steadfastly makes New Year’s resolutions each January 1, only to see them evaporate into good intentions more quickly than the winter snow? Or, do you just not bother any more? Or, perhaps you are one of the few who make–and keep–their resolutions each year.

With this last post of 2014 (I am taking next week off to work on my resolutions), I thought it might be useful to think back on the posts of the past few months, and see how they can guide you through making  New Year’s resolutions that stick.

Start with what’s in your heart. If it is something that you “really should” or “need to” do, you may start down the road, but the journey is likely to stop far short of the destination. Eating healthier, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, sleeping 6-8 hours a night…these are all worthy resolutions. And, if you are making one or more of them your resolutions, it is because doing so will be a big–and tough–change for you.

Big, tough changes don’t succeed because they are the right things to do; they succeed because in our hearts (not in our minds) we cannot imagine them failing. They succeed because they are rooted in our hearts, not our heads.

What change, or changes, have roots in your heart? That is where your New Year’s resolution needs to begin. Don’t start with “what” you are going to do. A resolution that you will fulfill is not about going to the gym more often; there is something deeper. Start with what is in your heart. Start with Why.(See the post, Don’t Start With a Plan!)

Write your change story. Reflect on your “why.” Envision achieving it. You have just crossed the finish line of your first marathon. You are standing on the stage, mid-career, receiving your college degree in the field you have wanted as your career your entire life. You have woken up in your new home in Costa Rica for the first time. You have come out as gay, or bi, or trans, and you know what it means to live as who you truly are–without fear or hesitation or regret–for the first time in your life.

Write your change story from where it is rooted. It is a story that is driven by your passion to make it true; let that passion flow into the story. Yes, there will be some talk about the “how’s” and the “what’s.” But if the change is that deep and important, many of those things will be mysteries now. Think about a few signals that you are on the right track. Using one of the examples above…it is not that you have registered for college, but that you have begun studies in the career of your choice.

There is much more to writing your change story. How will you know when you get there? Who is in your story? What is your time frame? Why is it important to honor the past, and to respect and believe in yourself? What is the flow “sparkline”? (See the posts What’s Your Story? Parts 1-3 for more guidance on writing your story.)

Tell your story. First, tell it to yourself. Stand in front of the mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Speak your truth. Yes, really! It may be difficult, or even impossible, at first. But if you can’t stand up to witnessing your own story it is unlikely that you will be able to live it. Tell it again, and again, and again. And tell it to others.

(For more, see the post Telling Your Personal Change Story.)

Anchors, aweigh. We each have our own anchors. They help to keep us in place in our lives, and provide stability when things get tough. They may be other people, our beliefs and practices, possessions, a job…

What are your anchors? Will they help keep you faced into your New Year’s resolution? Will they weigh you down until you cut yourself free from the resolution? Do you need to cut yourself free from (or in some other way redefine your relationship to) them?

Our anchors are critical in times of change. So is maintaining the relationship with them (including no relationship at all) that will enable us to succeed. (Learn more about working with your anchors in Anchors, Aweigh!.)

When the going gets tough… If your resolution has its roots in your heart, the only reason it might seem easy right now is because you really don’t know what it will take to succeed (think “honeymoon”). It isn’t a matter of “if the going gets tough.” It is “when the going gets tough.”

Yes, when the going gets tough, you need to be tough as well. But, unfortunately, too often we think that we can tough it out alone when we can’t. And, if it is a tough change, chances are, we can’t tough it out alone. The twelve step programs are a great reminder of this. No one thinks that alcohol, or substance use, or sex, or gambling addictions are healthy choices in life. Twelve step programs are there to help people move through, and beyond, these addictions. And, each of them uses some form of an accountability buddy (think “sponsor”) to do so.

We need discipline if we are to realize the promise of our New Year’s resolution. And with the discipline, we may well also need an accountability buddy. (See Discipline 2.0 to learn more about the discipline needed to achieve your resolution goals.)

Welcome to the season in which many of us promise to make positive change for ourselves, and perhaps the world. These resolutions require resolve. My wish for you this holiday season is that however you may celebrate it, may it be a celebration of joy and wonder. I also wish that as you face the New Year, you find the resolve deep in your heart to continue on a journey of growth, health, healing, and happiness. And, finally, I wish for you a joyous, wondrous, and heart-felt fulfilling New Year!

Telling Your Organization’s Change Story…


iStock_000007755704iconIt seems self-evident, but is so often forgotten. And, the larger your organization, the easier it is to forget… Organizations don’t change; change occurs through shifts in the way that people think and behave. Your organization–large or small, public or private, for profit or nonprofit–succeeds, or fails, through the people inside of it and their interactions with both one another and with those you intend to serve. This is why writing your change story is fundamentally no different for your organization than it would be for a personal change. Depending on the nature of your change and of your organization, you may need the press releases, the media announcements, the calls with investors. You do need your organization’s change story. It is the story of people changing. It is a personal story for everyone in the organization.

Not unlike last week’s post (Telling Your Personal Change Story), the first person you need to tell your organization’s change story to is yourself. Quite simply, if you don’t feel it and believe it, neither will anyone else. If you are not going to take the change to heart, neither will anyone else. If you believe “they have to change,” or “the organization has to change,” but you don’t, you–and your change–will fail. If this is a really big change for the organization, it means it is a big change for you as well.

Whether you are the person who is ultimately responsible for the change, have a position of authority elsewhere in the organization, or are someone with informal influence, you next need to tell the story to those who are in a position to drive the story throughout the organization. This will include, but should not be limited to, your direct reports. It should also include others who are highly influential even though they may not be part of the formal hierarchy.

Each of these people needs to feel and believe the story as fully as you do. They need to make it their own, and to tell it in their own words. And, they need to keep it whole. All of the guidelines for writing the story (What’s Your Story? Parts 1 and 2) hold equally true in its telling. Let’s take a look at the guidelines as they apply to telling your organization’s change story.

  1. Start with your “why.” Why the change is important to the organization should be a constant, regardless of who is telling the story. But it is also important to tell why it is important to you. As Simon Sinek tells us, your why is in your heart. With this is mind, don’t try to tell others why it is important to them. Each person needs to determine that for himself or herself.
  2. Write from the future. Tell the story from the future.
  3. Identify how you will know when you have arrived at your destination. What are the indicators that tell you that progress is being made, not just in putting things in place, but in actually shifting the thinking and behaviors that need to change? The story identifies indicators at the organizational level; you need to tell people what these indicators mean to them.
  4. Establish your time frame. The time frame in the story is the time frame. However, it will also be important to tell people (when it is known) what the time frame means for them.
  5. Create a “sparkline.” Nancy Duarte describes the sparkline as the constant flow in the story between “what is” and “what could be.” The story has a sparkline, and it is there for a purpose. Use it. The sparkline helps people let go of the current state, and find hope in the future.
  6. Determine who the participants in your story will be, and their roles. You may not know who will elect to make the journey, and who will opt out. You may not know the job titles, or the names, of those who will complete the journey. When you know these things, they should be addressed. In the meantime, you do know the attributes of those who will succeed in the future state. Be clear in articulating them as part of the story. For example, Today we celebrate individual achievement. As we move into the future, our focus is shifting to acknowledge how much we need every person to achieve, and how much we are dependent on one another. This time next year, the individual who positions himself or herself as the star will be the outlier. Those teams that are strong contributors to our success are the ones we will be acknowledging.
  7. Honor the past. There is an organizational past to be honored. And, there is a personal past, both for you, and for those to whom you are telling the story.
  8. Respect and believe in yourself. As you tell the story, if you do not respect and believe in yourself, those who are listening won’t respect and believe in you.

During change people need to hear what it means to the organization. They may need the  data, the number of projects or initiatives, the revenue projections, and all of those things that are a part of “the rationale” for initiating such a major initiative. The “big announcement,” whatever form it may take, will be enough to excite some (or even many) to begin the change journey.

But if the journey is long, if it is difficult, they need more. They need a consistent story across the organization, but not the same story. They need to know what the journey means to them, and what is required for them to succeed in the future that your organization is creating. They need to know that you believe in that future, not just in your head, but in your heart as well. They need to hear the story and make it their own.

Telling Your Personal Change Story…


iStock_000015090448_SmallFor the past three weeks we have been focusing on your change story, why it is important, and guidelines for writing it. While those posts apply to both personal and organizational change, today’s post is different; it is only about your personal change story. In my next post I will focus on telling the story of an organizational change.

If your story is about a personal change, who do you tell it to?

Look in the mirror. You are your first audience. And, you will be your most frequent audience going forward. Why? Quoting Henry Ford, “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t, you are right.” Wherever your thinking is today, it will shift. Some days you will have a greater belief in your ability to succeed than you do today. Other days, you will have less. That is why you write your story from the future. It speaks to having succeeded, to achieving what you have set out to attain. You need to believe that it can–and will–happen, or you will never get there. The larger, more disruptive the change is, the truer this is.

A few years ago I was on a spiritual retreat. One of my personal stories surfaced in a group session. It was a painful one, but one that I believed was true. The facilitator worked with me to write a new story, one filled with promise and positive outcomes. That was the easy part!

He then brought me in front of a full-length mirror, and had me look myself in the eye. He asked me to tell myself the new story. Hesitantly, with uncertainty, I struggled through it. For weeks after, every morning in front of the mirror I struggled to tell myself my new story. Sometimes I was eye-to-eye with me; sometimes my eyes were averted. Then, one day, I stood there, told my story, and started smiling. A laugh erupted. It was clear that I believed the story, and was on my journey to achieving it.

That story is still alive today. It is becoming more and more fully realized. And, each morning I stand in front of the mirror, and I tell myself the story once again, from my heart.

Tell it to your personal anchors who are, or will be, taking the journey with you. Perhaps they helped to write the story. Perhaps they will help you to edit it as you move forward, to adjust to the shifting environment, the unexpected obstacles, the unanticipated encounters. What you want most is for them to anchor you in the story; to hold you accountable for living into it.

In my “Anchors, Aweigh” post I also talked about the anchors that you need to let go of, and those which will require a different relationship in the future if you are to succeed. Those anchors, if they are people in your life, need to hear the story as well. Ideally, they should hear it directly from you.

  • Stand in front of the mirror, story in hand,
  • Look yourself in the eye, and
  • Start telling yourself of your future life, and how you will get there.
  • As you talk, also listen, and feel it in your heart.



Picture1penIn my last post I introduced the first five guidelines for writing your story.

  1. Start with your why.
  2. Write from the future.
  3. Identify how you will know when you reach your destination.
  4. Establish your time frame.
  5. Create a “sparkline.”

In this post I will describe the final three guidelines. Keep in mind, while the examples may be written in terms of either organizational or personal change, the underlying principles remain the same for both.

6. Determine who the participants in your story will be, and the roles they will play.

This is not an easy one! And, you may not be able to fully answer it at the outset. Nonetheless, it is important that you give significant thought to who the participants in your story will be, and the roles that they will play.

In an earlier post (Anchors, Aweigh) I wrote about anchors. I have found it easiest for people to determine the participants in the story by beginning with some anchor questions.

1. Who are the people that are anchoring you now? 2. What is the nature of the anchor each plays? 3. What is the relationship that exists between the two of you? Now, reflect on each of these relationships again, applying the same “from the future” lens as we discussed last post. 4. Will each of these people still play an anchoring role in the future? 5. If so, will it be the same as it is now, or how will it be different?  

Let me give you an example.

My client (let’s call him Frank) had been brought in to head up a manufacturing facility that was one of several in a global organization. The facility had been built to produce a product that had been designed by his predecessor, Steve.  Steve was a hero not just at the facility, but throughout the organization. And, he was an extremely weak leader. Here is how Frank thought through these questions regarding Steve.

  1. Steve has to be a participant in this story.
  2. Steve is anchoring this facility in two ways right now. On the positive, he is seen as a guru, the reason the facility is here. If anyone has any questions about the product, thoughts on improvement, etc., they go to Steve. On the negative, under Steve’s leadership the facility has developed a poor performance record. There are major quality and productivity issues that Frank has been brought in to address.
  3. In discussions with Steve before he accepted the assignment, it became clear to Frank that Steve had never wanted to lead a facility, and was glad to be able to step out of that role. At the same time, Steve felt threatened; if he left his current position he felt that he would lose prestige, and might well lose any relationship he enjoyed with the facility and its people.
  4. Frank had negotiated the right to terminate Steve. He also knew that doing so would be extremely disruptive and undermine his credibility. Not only was Steve highly revered; he was the “source of knowledge” regarding all aspects of their only product. As we talked things through, Frank decided that, if at all possible, the future story had to include Steve in a position that would allow him to continue to bring value to the facility.
  5. A new position was created for Steve. He became “Product Guru.” Frank and Steve worked together to define his responsibilities so that it was clear to everyone that Frank was in charge; Steve (gladly) stepped out of any operating responsibility. A program was set up that allowed Steve to develop a pool of employees who had a deep understanding of the product. Finally, the Board of Directors renamed the facility in honor of Steve; it became the only facility in the company that was known by the name of a person, rather than its location.

At the outset, Frank could not know how the story might end… He did know that Steve needed to be a part of it.

One more step is required to fully complete the participant list for your story. That is to identify those who have not been participants in the past, but are needed to bring your story to fruition in the future. If your story has you comfortably enjoying your retirement, it may require a financial planner. In the example I just laid out, Frank knew that he needed the guidance of someone who understood the patterns of change.

What are the answers to the anchor questions above for your story?

Who are the new participants that you will need to write into your story?

7. Honor the past.

Looking at the example above, you will see that one of the things that Frank did was to honor the past, to recognize and value what Steve had made possible.

All too often when planning or in the midst of change, the past gets rewritten. The mindset seems to be, “If they had done things differently, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.” The truth is, no matter what has been done in the past, change is inevitable. And, sometimes, big, highly disruptive change will happen.

Look at the past for what it has made possible. It has brought you to this point. It has given you (and/or your organization) the knowledge and the resources that are now available to help successfully navigate to the future. It has helped to shape the thinking that will allow that future to be defined.

Breaking with that past is always difficult; that difficulty is made worse when those who created and sustained what is in place are the ones who will have to now dismantle it. Sometimes the unconscious (or even conscious) decision is made to disparage the past as a way of making it easier to let go. (How many times, for example, have you seen someone who regularly has talked about enjoying their job in the past, suddenly begin to bad-mouth everything about it as they prepare to leave for a new job elsewhere?)

In my own experience and that of my clients, the truth is, if we can find a way to honor and respect what has come before, to acknowledge what it has made possible and where it has brought us, it is much easier to stand on that and step forward into the future.

How will you honor the past in your story?

8. Respect and believe in yourself.

Frequently I will have a client say to me, “Why did I wait so long to…(decide to change careers, decide to start my own business, redirect our organizational strategy, decide to come out, etc.)?” All too often this will be followed by some form of negative self-judgment. This only undermines your belief in yourself, and in your ability to create the future that is your why.

How will you demonstrate respect for, and belief in, yourself in your story?

Those are the eight guidelines that I use with my clients, whether organizations or individuals, as I work with them to write their stories.

If you have a change story you are telling yourself (and/or others), how well does it line up with these guidelines?

If you have not yet written your story, it is important that you do so. It won’t happen in one sitting; but you should start it today. And remember, start with your why!

Do you have a change story you want to share with readers of Change Mentor? Email me at [email protected]