Change begins by creating a state of mind inside yourself, like a touchstone you can refer to every day to remind yourself how to live inside of a state of wonder and engagement, and how to use conversations to bring you back to your center when you slide off, to remind you how to turn breakdowns into breakthroughs, and to remind yourself how to be the change you want to create in the world.
These are such simple principles that you can practice every day. And the more you practice them, the easier they are to activate even in the face of difficult challenges. When the market dynamics change and you are faced with challenges bigger than you feel you can face alone, rather than retreat, turn to others to help you work it out. You alone don’t need to come prepared with all the answers. Instead, create them with others.
Here are three practices to experiment with.
#1: Find Excitement Inside of Ambiguity and Change
Change and ambiguity are what we as leaders face every day. We have many choices to make and the bottom line is that we must learn how to adapt to change in the competitive marketplace and successfully manage the impact of change on our business. For many of us, this requires moving out of our Comfort Zone, where we are certain about what to do, and entering our Discomfort Zone, where we face situations and challenges for which we don’t have all the answers.
Success patterns are difficult to change. When something has made us successful in the past, we like to re-create it over and over. Human beings will, in fact, stick with a pattern even after it has lost its ability to produce results. We become pattern fixated and come to love the pattern more than the end results—it becomes a part of our very identity – and the fear of giving it up is as big as the fear of losing a limb!
In the 1980s, IBM sold big mainframe equipment. They missed the small-computer market when other companies were responding to the customers’ cries for small, personal productivity tools. Levi Strauss, one of the largest jeans manufacturers in the world, missed out on getting into the designer jeans marketplace. They were fixated on work jeans and missed the move to designer jeans, leaving room for Calvin Klein and others to take the lead.
By contrast, Coach Inc. was known for making very traditional handbags and accessories. In 1995, their consumer research began to show that the buying trends of consumers were changing. The trend toward “business casual” along with women and even younger women’s desire for accessories for fun, fashion, and femininity created a wakeup call at Coach. The rate of growth slowed in a way that caused the executive team at Coach to do what they do best: turn toward the customer, embracing the feedback even if it meant a complete extreme makeover.
Through one of the most successful companywide efforts, the makeover has been breathtaking. Since 2000, the company’s compound annual sales growth has been 25 percent. Coach has become one of the most desired lifestyle brands, continuing to wow the marketplace going forward. Lew Frankfurt, the CEO of Coach, first decided to bring in Reed Krakoff from Tommy Hilfiger as his new creative director, with a mandate to rethink the product line. He then hired Keith Manda as COO, bring extensive industry expertise.
Soon the Coach organization was bringing to market a whole new line of lighter-weight bags, with the Coach logo to fill out the traditional leather bags. The line expanded into other accessories—and from a twice-a-year design schedule, they began offering bags every four weeks. Coach broke through their proverbial Comfort Zone by using extensive outreach to customers and inclusion with employees.
From the late ’80s, Coach had been interviewing customers and running focus groups. In fact, today they interview 10,000 customers individually every year to better understand how the brand is being perceived in the customer’s mind. Though this they are able to gauge how to readjust their production.
Coach does an extraordinary job in both its commitment to its customers and the inclusion of its employees. From the CEO out to the customer-centric teams, everyone takes part in creating the brand. Employees throughout the company participate in training and education regularly.
While my company has worked with the retail, wholesale, and operations teams for years, we are still impressed with the incredibly high level of commitment to learning, growing, and educating employees that takes place in this very people-centric organization. Coach executives not only listen to the customer—they fully engage the employees in creating the transformation.
Today, the company is headed into another year of explosive success; their stock has split twice since their IPO and their revenues now exceed $1 billion, and growing, annually.
#2: Expand Your Comfort Zone
In the face of continuous market changes, the people in companies that are most successful turn to each other and study change; they study the unknown, and make the unfamiliar familiar. They turn to each other to create a new capability for transforming fear into flexibility and resilience. Since companies are people, it is within people that the real shifts need to take place. There is no organizational change without personal change.
The most common reaction to change is fear; yet, when people turn to each other for support, they reduce the level of fear and increase the level of safety and comfort — and trigger the capacity to learn and grow.
From a brain standpoint, turning to others to strengthen relationship in the face of change, actually sends meta-messages to the brain or the parts of the brain that often engage in the face of fear – the Amygdala – the older reptilian brain. By comforting the brain through relationship, the brain becomes open to influence rather than closed and protective. The consequence is growth and openness to learn. Change becomes a friend, a catalyst for good things to come.
To expand your Comfort Zone, you need to reframe how you think about “comfort” and what it means to you. You may like your life the way it is and not want to change, particularly if your identity is intricately woven into the way you are now. You may like your habits and routines because they bring you the peace and comfort that comes with knowing what will happen next. Change of routine is often disconcerting to us, even on a small scale. For some people, navigating the unknown creates anxiety and fear, and even the brightest leaders may be resistant to change.
Instead, think about change in terms of the wonderful discoveries that you will make along your journey. Think about how wonderful it will be to live in a world full of learning, growth, and nourishment of your mind, body, and soul.
You are navigating and pioneering new facets of your life. If you don’t start, you may never discover all the incredible things about yourself!
When we live in our Comfort Zone and fail to challenge ourselves to grow, we create a status quo that reinforces our old patterns and routines. Right now, think of your Comfort Zone as discomforting, and think of living without risk as a signal that you have stepped back from something you really need to learn to do.
Ask yourself where you feel stuck or are living in a holding pattern:
- What can I learn that will help me expand my leadership portfolio and my ability to influence others in positive ways?
- How can I expand my people resources?
- How can I expand my strategies and new ways of thinking?
- How can I expand my moves and my opportunities?
- How can I acquire and leverage new skills?
#3: Embrace What You Love
In the late 1970s my parents returned from Indonesia with a gift for me: a set of jaunting tools that batik artists and craftsmen use to design and create batiks on fabrics. I had a friend who was making silk batik dresses, and they were extraordinarily beautiful. She invited me to visit and watch her working at her craft. I fell in love with what I saw her doing. She looked enchanting working in silk, wax, and dyes, and I wanted to become what she was. From this experience I uncovered a desire to experiment and learn this new art form.
I explored fabric stores for waxes and dyes. I played and experimented with the materials and soon discovered I was teaching myself to batik. In the beginning, for every three I made, I tossed out two. As I practiced, I discovered I was learning to draw with my new tools, and soon found I could do simple things like flowers and birds. Later I found I could do landscapes and people. Over the weeks and months my confidence grew. A friend saw my work and found it quite unique. She told someone running an art show, and I was asked to submit my work. In two months I had to have forty paintings. I did them and half of them sold at the show.
Someone else saw them and suggested I enter a larger show. I did and then had to create twenty more batiks. They were bigger and more complex. I was asked to be a featured artist, and I sold half of my larger batiks. Someone else suggested another show, and I took first place!
Lee Keet, the person who bought my winning batik which I named “Jeremy’s Dream,” became my first corporate client. He loved my work so much he hired me to design his corporate marketing materials. He was the first CEO I worked with, and from that one opportunity my lifelong career in transformational consulting unfolded.
One small step—inspired by the vision of a friend and the encouragement of a business colleague—helped me step out of my Comfort Zone and shifted a fear into a desire. I released old assumptions about who I am and what I am capable of doing. I embraced what I loved to do. And this love embraced me and took me on a whole new journey.
Design Environments That Support Growth & Generativity
What kind of environment are you creating at work? Are you designing environments that trigger fear – or trigger our territorial instincts? Are your environments triggering self-interest or collaboration?
When we live in a state of fear, we are carrying that fear into every conversation, every meeting and every relationship. Our energy state is contagious – it’s the air we breathe and it impacts everything we say, think and believe. Your mindset towards change and transformation determines the environment you create.
Reflect on These Powerful Questions
- Are you retreating into your reptilian brain, where fear dominates your mental state—and thus triggering that response in others?
- Are you driving yourself and others into self-protective behaviors and, in doing so, cutting off your nourishment from the outside world?
- How comfortable are you with change? How do you approach change? Do you withdraw? Do you get upset and angry with others and yourself? Do you blame those who are apparently creating the change? Change is filled with ambiguity; sometimes, when we are in the middle of it, we just don’t know how to interpret where we are. Are you willing to step up and challenge the direction a team is headed if you are the only voice—the only boat heading upstream?
- How comfortable are you with learning new skills?
- How comfortable are you with taking feedback from a superior who feels you are not turning your boat around fast enough?
- How willing are you to change your behavior if you have been getting results by “ordering people around” and now you need to learn the softer side of influence? Do you feel that any form of influence other than giving direct orders is weak willed and makes you a pushover? On the other hand, when you are told to toughen up and be more assertive, are you willing to try it out even if you have never influenced people that way before?
Over the next few weeks, live inside of these big questions – assess yourself and see where you stand in relationship to change. Make change your friend not foe. Remember to: find excitement inside of ambiguity and change, expand your comfort zone, and embrace what you love! Enjoy the journey.
Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books: Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; and the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose
Contact: 212-307-4386 - www.creatingwe.com
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