Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Courage to Change

WHAT MAKES CHANGE SO difficult? Why do we see change as threatening? Because we feel more centered, confident, and good about ourselves when we know our life is predictable. We are creatures of habit. We are much more comfortable when we know what we will do every day. We like to get out of the same bed, eat in the same kitchen, see the same people at work, and drive down familiar streets.

We work hard to establish successful routines, and we repeat them so that we perform successfully at work. We follow these patterns over and over again, from the way we launch projects to the way we launch relationships. Yet life and business are not predictable. Outside forces create disruptions that require major shifts in how we work together with others. We join a company that is headed in one direction, and the next minute, it’s turning in another direction. We can’t control the market shifts taking place; we can only respond to them wisely.

Are You Afraid of Change?

In the midst of change, you are bombarded with an incredible amount of details and decisions about your use of time and resources. Do you decide to move in the new direction? Do you get more involved and become a model or mentor? Do you become an internal “change agent” or catalyst for change? Or, are you afraid of change, not wanting to take on new challenges for fear you might fail? If you want to stay with your organization, but don’t like the direction it’s headed, what do you do? Do you try to influence others to change their minds? Do you informally rally to keep everyone from changing?

We have many choices to make, and we must learn how to adapt to changes in the competitive marketplace and manage the impact of change on us and our business. For many of us, it 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. You may need to learn how to change direction, strategy, and structure to operate the business profitably.

You may need to help others develop skills and competencies to transform the business. How does change occur? In the face of incredible market changes, you need to be flexible and resilient. There is no organizational change without personal change. Ask yourself: How comfortable am I with change? Am I willing to step up and challenge the direction a team is headed, even if I am the only voice? How comfortable am I in learning new skills? How comfortable am I in taking feedback from a superior who feels I am not moving fast enough? How willing am I to change my behavior if I have been getting results by “ordering people around?”

Now I need to learn the softer side of influence. How comfortable am I with doing that? Do I feel that any other way to influence rather than giving direct orders is weak-willed and makes me feel like a pushover? On the other hand, when I am told to toughen up and be more assertive, am I willing to try it out, even if I have never influenced people that way before?

Outside the Comfort Zone

When we step outside of our comfort zone, we often experience anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. We tend to withdraw, retreat back to comfort, protecting what we perceive to be subject to harm—be it our property, our resources, our ego, or our point of view.

There are perceived advantages to living in your comfort zone: We are always right. We won’t get hurt. We have a safe place to hide. We will be successful at what we’re doing. We are safe from harm.

There are real disadvantages to living in your comfort zone: We may be wrong. We can get hurt. We cannot hide. We will not always be successful at what we are doing. We are not safe from harm.

Comfort zones are illusions. We are only safe as long as the world around us stops changing. We are only right and successful if the rest of the world stops changing. If we learn nothing else in life, we learn that the only constant is change! If you live in your comfort zone, you are likely stuck in patterns that are no longer working or right for the situations you now face. Chances are you have stopped learning and you are building walls around you so that others can’t see what’s going on inside.

Pushing through your comfort zone takes courage and the willingness to take risks to open up to new principles and situations and to challenge yourself to view the world in new ways.

Finding the edges of our comfort zone is a skill we can cultivate. We’ll know when it happens because when we get to that edge, our mind signals us to pull back. Our body will cause us to turn around and flee. Our emotions let us know because we either withdraw, attack the offending person or situation, or freeze up and stand still. 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, I want you to think of the comfort zone as discomforting and living without risk as a signal that you have stepped back from something you really need to learn to do.

If you feel stuck or are living in a holding pattern, ask yourself: What can I learn that will help me expand my leadership portfolio? 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 opportunities? How can I acquire and leverage new skills? As we progress, we are expected to be experts, leaders, and authorities. Yet, the most important skill we can learn is how to set the tone for change. Think about your situation now, and answer these questions about your comfort zone.

Leadership starts by finding the edges of your comfort zone and figuring out how to break through.

 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