Leadership, change and the “Comfort Zone”
These four images explore different examples of the ‘comfort zone’ – a place that often keeps us from leading change.
The first shows our tendency to put on armour and let our egos slug it out when we feel threatened, and how this gets in the way of service. The second shows the way we can collude to de-risk the language of change. The third shows how hard it can be to see things differently when our thinking keeps us “getting what we’ve always got”, even when we desperately want change. The last image shows what can happen when leaders and employees are willing to step outside their own comfort zones and have more adult-to-adult relationships.
The clash of egos
This picture was inspired by hearing a recent client talking about the behaviour of some senior leaders when faced with the need to create change in the organisation. When change is scary and brings up fear, it’s natural to deny or avoid this feeling and defend against it. The ego needs to be certain and right and on familiar ground. But to adapt to change we need to risk letting go of what we’re sure about to move towards something new. If we’re going to lead change, and genuinely serve people, there’s no place for ego. We need to be willing to drop the defences and to go first into the unknown…
Do you see this happing in your organisation? What would you like to do about it?
The Language Neutraliser
The way change is communicated has a significant impact on employees. We often hear corporate-speak that sounds like it has been through some kind of machine for squeezing out risk. Unfortunately, this also has the effect of squeezing out most of the meaning too.
It may be difficult to be honest with employees but, unless you are, they will see right through your words and become more cynical and distrustful. To gain trust and engagement, a leader needs to demonstrate the courage to to be honest about what is happening. No more euphemisms, no more de-risked expressions – just the simplest, most direct words possible.
What words or expressions have been through the “Neutraliser” in your organisation?
Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get
what you’ve always got
Einstein once said “problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”. Faced with unprecendented pressure to change, this seems more relevant today than it has ever been, with organisations under huge pressure to perform better with less resources. For many people, this just means working longer and harder but even when they do, little seems to change. Why is that? It’s because most organisations are still doing what they’ve always done and getting what they’ve always got.
How can you make sense of what you don’t yet know? That’s the question. We think that the secret to change is when a leader is willing to imagine that the way forward lies outside of their current way of thinking about things. It takes real courage to ask “what is it that I’m not seeing here?”
Do you recognise this situation? Do your leaders have time and space to step back enough to look at it?
How can you engage a workforce when the organisation has to cut 25% of its combined workforce?
As a leader, you can engage the workforce with this difficult and painful issue through your willingness to get into an honest dialogue about it. The most important thing you could do is to use this situation to create a shift in understanding about what’s happening and why and what it means to each individual.
That means both the leadership and the workforce being invited to explore and question its familiar points of view. For leadership, these might include “we can’t tell the truth about this, we can’t be wrong, we can’t NOT know…” while for the workforce they might be “we don’t understand the bigger picture, can’t see beyond the detail, it’s them versus us…”
The aim of this dialogue is to bring each side away from its familiar position towards common ground. It can only work if each side is willing to experience some discomfort in order to gain fresh understanding and shared purpose. Because of this discomfort, it also requires external facilitation to make sure that old defensive habits don’t reassert themselves when things get difficult.
What do you think is the answer?