Leading Through Times of Change

"The changes in the human condition are uncertain and frequent."  That quote is from Alexander Hamilton, written over two hundred years ago.  I'm reading the popular Hamilton book right now and took a moment to realize that change has always been the constant to the human condition.  I was at a conference the other day where one of my fellow speakers showed a quote about the level of disruptive change in America that clearly sounded like it was pulled from yesterday's headlines.  In fact it was from the 1950's.

So change is constant and real and something all leaders have to address.  It's helpful sometimes to look up and realize nearly every person, company, industry and nation are facing some sort of change and having to figure out how to deal with it.  

Like all of us, I had dealt with change before.  Or so I thought.  But I really knew nothing about change until I faced my accident.  Instantaneously becoming an amputee and thrown into a wheelchair and a series of surgeries, treatments and therapies provided me with a new lens on dealing with change.  Here are a few thoughts I'll offer up today about what I learned:

1) Quit wishing it didn't happen.  Yes, easier said than done, but essential nonetheless.  Wishing your competition didn't build right across the street isn't going to change anything.  Wishing your patent hadn't expired isn't going to change the outcome.  Make yourself accept the change that has occurred and literally shut off any "shoulda, woulda, couldas" from the past tense.  Once you accept the current situation, you are liberated to move from the new set point forward.  What are the future possibilities?  What could be a hidden advantage in this seemingly disadvantaged situation?  What has to be true to get your desired outcome?  Focus your energy on the present and the future.

2) Be as resilient as a 4-year old.  My kids were two and four when I lost my leg and they taught me so much about acceptance and resilience.  People talk about the notion of kids being resilient but you don't hear as many explanations as to why they are resilient.  I think it boils down to a pretty simple concept.  They don't have any other context for how things are supposed to go so they embrace and accept what is (see point #1!). From that non-attachment vantage point, they can bounce into any new reality with grace and ease.  They see things for what they are, not what they want them to be.  I distinctly remember my two-year-old daughter wearing one leg warmer around the house calling it her prosthetic leg.  She was in solidarity with her mama and had no clue every mom didn't get a new metal leg somewhere along the way.  If you have kids in your life, ask their opinion on your issue.  The answer might fascinate you.  The other day I was struggling with a challenging conversation I was dreading having and my seven-year old son said to me, "just call her, tell her to stop doing x and it's done."  You know that straightforward advice was actually quite useful to shut down my inner dialogue about the seventy-two points of context I thought I needed in the pre-amble to the conversation.  And you know what, that critical conversation went quite well.

3) Be transparent in your struggle.  I think people believe leaders, especially in formal work situations, shouldn't share their challenges.  "Never let 'em see you sweat."  I disagree (within reason, of course).  I've found when you're honest with people about the challenges at hand, they take solace in understanding a couple of things.  One: you get it. When leaders aren't transparent about issues, it often leaves others wondering if you really get what's happening.  And it's concerning for people to think you might be in the dark.  Two: you are acknowledging you're in this together.  It's ok to not have all the answers.  By sharing the challenge, you're modeling leadership is about managing through dilemmas and making the right trade-off choices.  And most importantly, you're recruiting others to help.

Good luck with the change du jour this week.  And just remember, change is really all about fueling forward motion if you harness it correctly.

And PS - if anyone has a hook-up to a ticket to see Hamilton on Broadway, let me know. :)