It seems like a good time to write about freedom, with the American Fourth of July Holiday that celebrates America’s independence from the Kingdom of Great Britian just two days away. Freedom is an interesting topic, because when thought about deeply, it reveals some of the Universe’s most profound truths.
Most often, we think of freedom as liberty from external constraint. This was certainly so with America’s founding fathers, who were seeking freedom from oppressive English laws. This sense of personal freedom underlies much of the individual, social and political ideology and behavior in the U.S. Americans value freedom, often above all else, which is one reason the U.S. takes on such a global leadership role attempting to bring democracy to oppressive parts of the world, although other, less noble reasons exist as well.
America is such a diverse country because millions have come here seeking freedom from governments and societies that have far more repressive and controlling laws and social norms. This freedom from external rule provides for greater opportunity to express ourselves as individuals and generate a life we choose to live. Freedom of choice is freedom from external control, and is the essence of what we collectively mean by freedom.
But freedom is not just about liberty in the outer world. It is also about the lack of constraint within. How many of us possess that level of freedom?
In this morning’s mediation, I experienced the deep silent stillness of my inner Being, where spaciousness and choice, freedom and liberty abound. But then, at times, that freedom was disturbed and I’d realize that I was off in a chain of thought. The spaciousness and choice was replaced with the density and constraint of thinking about something I did not actually choose to think about. The thoughts just arose and took over, and I had no awareness of when it happened. I simply “woke up” in them, having them, being controlled by them. I didn’t choose them. I didn’t want them. But in that moment, they were in control of what my consciousness was attending to.
Once again consciously aware, I could witness those thoughts, choose to let go of those them and simply be. When witnessing, and observing my thoughts arise, I could sense the freedom and space in me once again. And the longer I witnessed, the deeper I would sink into the silent freedom within. I could find freedom, but only with conscious intention.
This ego based, conditioned thinking that I was observing this morning occurs in me 24/7/365, and it occurs in you, too. It is the autopilot of my own conditioning expressing; my beliefs, values and worldviews laying themselves on me and the world, governing my emotions, decisions, and actions. I live in America, where I have more external freedoms than most people, but am I truly free? Who is governing me, my ego’s conditioning or my Being’s authentic expression? How many of my thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and actions are really generated by my own freedom to choose, by my Being rather than the conditioning of my mind?
As agents of change, the more we can connect with the spaciousness within our own Beings, the more we can hold the space for the density and complexity of complex change. It is the freedom within that enables the freedom to change ourselves, our organizations, and the world.
How about for you? Are you as free as you want to be? And if not, how can you become more free?
As you evolve and your seeing becomes both broader and deeper, you begin to realize that change is very similar at all levels of reality. Personal change parallels the same dynamics that occur in organizational change, which also models planetary change pretty darn well. The difference is scale. You, as an individual self, are also an organization in your own right, just smaller. Metaphorically, the many different biological functions within you are similar to the different departments and functions within your company, which function similarly to nations within the world. You have an inner world – your mindset, beliefs and consciousness – just as your company has an inner world called its culture. Significant personal or organizational transformation cannot happen or sustain without a shift of mindset and culture, just as planetary change cannot occur without a shift in world culture.
Change is process, and the change process at the personal, relational, team, organization, and planetary levels follows similar laws. One key process step at all levels is building a case for change. I don’t mean writing one, I mean getting the case for change fully understood by the person or people undergoing change. Once understood, motivation for change rises and resistance goes down because the change simply makes sense.
My main interest these days is planetary change. When I look at the world as an organization, I clearly see that we do not yet have alignment about the case for change. Many people, stuck in the blinders of their own ideologies, refuse to look at, listen to, or integrate knowledge and facts about the state of our world. Without a critical mass of people truly understanding the case for global change, we will continue to have extreme difficulty getting aligned action across the globe that delivers positive results.
So here is a book I recommend you read and share with everyone you know: The World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, by Lester Russell Brown.
Lester Brown is the president of the Earth Policy Institute, and author of numerous books on the state of the world. Why is his information so important? Simply because it provides countless data points, beyond ideology, of the current reality of planet earth and the state humanity is in across the world. This information frames the case for global change. The more people who understand the state of the world, the more motivation we will collectively have to make positive change. Lester does a fantastic job presenting the facts, and the facts – the information – is ultimately the catalyst for transformation.
Please read the book, share the book, and initiate dialogues with your family, co-workers and friends, about the facts in the book.
Now here is my caution: don’t evangelize the need for planetary change so that you inadvertantly trigger people’s resistance to such an idea. Rather, simply share the information with them so they have to think about it. If the info can get into their minds without being manipulated unconsciously by their current beliefs and ideologies, then it will drive change in their thinking. But if your over-zealous impulse to “make change happen” in them triggers their resistance, then the book’s information cannot do its magic.
Again, organizational and planetary change are very similar processes with very similar human and process dynamics. I would provide this same piece of advice regarding providing facts versus enthused ideology when building the case for change in stakeholders in the organizational changes that you lead or support.
I hope you enjoy the book, but let me warn you; it won’t make you feel good, but it may make you want to help lead social and planetary transformation.
Let me know what you think of the book.
I haven’t written a blog post in 64 days. My dad passed away in March, so my heart’s been elsewhere. My mom got knocked down and broke her hip three weeks ago, so I’ve been in California supporting her. Our business manager of eight years took a new job elsewhere, so I’ve been tending the business as well as clients. I am working on a new book, so my mind’s been there, and I’ve been spending much time mapping the functionality of The Change Leader’s Network site, searching for IT vendors, etc. What’s all this got to do with not writing and being in radio silence these past couple months?
If you want your change efforts to run smoothly, your stakeholders must perceive them as relevant and meaningful. Relevance comes from how the change fits in the bigger picture of their world and the organization. Meaning comes from how it touches them personally, on a deeper emotional or even spiritual level. Without relevance and meaning, adults do not turn their attention, energy and action toward something in a positive and sustainable way. It’s no different in writing a blog.
I could have faked interest in writing these past two months. Marketers would have coached me to do that, but I just wasn’t interested. The connection between me and the words wasn’t there. My creative channel was just not open. The messages and the words weren’t flowing.
So the best thing I could do was sit still:” just don’t do something, sit there!”
Too often we jump to action because we are “supposed to.” Marketers would have admonished me, “You must be consistent in your blog writing to be successful.” But sometimes internal measures of what is right far surpass external measures and reasons. Sometimes you just got to do what feels right to you. Your inner guidance is always your best compass, especially in leading change.
And that is why when dealing with resistance, in yourself or others, you invite the resistance out rather than cover it up with artificial action. Don’t engage staff to try to cover up their resistance. Rather, first engage them in the conversation about their resistance. Let the resistance be present, felt and honored, and then you will see it resove itself and the actions that follow will be driven by authentic relevance and meaning, making them far more potent and sustainable.
What is occuring in your life or change effort right now that you are covering up with busy-ness and action, rather than just sitting with and feeling? Sometimes just sitting with our resistance invites out deeper meaning, greater relevance and a more profound commitment. I know that has been true in my relationship with this blog going forward. I hope that becomes evident to you.
You have likely heard the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” With the answer being, “One bite at a time.” Transformational change is often approached the same way…mistakenly.
From a content perspective, many transformational change efforts can and should be broken down into individual initiatives. Many of these sub-initiatives are developmental and transitional initiatives; other are transformational.
For example, let’s say you are a software company and historically you have been very product-centric. Your technology has been leading edge, and customers buy your stuff because it leads the market in innovation. Now, competitors are catching up and even surpassing your innovation, and your executives decide the company must become more customer-centric. This new business strategy requires many changes to your organization and culture, which will demand significant change in leader and workforce behavior and mindset. This requires an enterprise-wide transformational change effort.
But to manage the content changes, your change leaders wisely decide that they can run a bunch of change initiatives, e.g., re-structuring around customer segments, re-engineering the sales processes, altering the product design process, implementing new information management technology, including a new CRM platform, delivering customer service training to all customer facing roles, hiring a new marketing firm, and starting a social community around your key products to get customer input and involvement.
Will all these initiatives, even if well run and integrated, collectively deliver the transformation? Almost certainly not. What is missing?
In transformational change, you must eat the content elephant one bite at a time, but you must also faciliate the transformation of the whole elephant, in particular, its mindset. In other words, if you just break the content changes down to their individual parts, e.g., the trunk, tail and ears, you miss the essence of the elephant, the spirit of the enterprise that must transform. You might get the new content installed, but the culture of the organization will not have transformed as you need to bring that new content to life to produce the great results you have envisioned.
Transformational change requires more than simply managing a collective of individual content initiatives. Attention to the spirit and mindset of the elephant – the culture of the organization – is also most critical, and that must be approached in an integrated, wholistic way.
There are many strategies for shifting culture, a key one being managing all those content changes in new culture ways. A few others include: 1) generating the definition of the new culture and communicating it in highly engaging ways, 2) creating a workforce ambassador network responsible for multi-directional communications with staff, 3) leaders sharing power and decision-making on a daily basis in ways that align to the new culture, 4) cross-boundary collaboration on highly visible projects, 5) staff being engaged in greater transparency about the business, 6) mindset and behavior “breakthrough” training for leaders and the workforce. These types of strategies, which attend to the mindset and spirit of the elephant / enterprise, when run in parallel and integrated with your content initiatives, can successfully deliver the transformational change results you seek.
Have you seen transformational change efforts that miss the mark by reducing the effort to a series of content initiatives without attending to the culture adequately?
How have you been able to keep a focus on the cultural aspects of transformational change?
I hear change management specialists saying all the time things like, “It all comes down to people. If our leaders would just focus on people, then our change efforts would all succeed.” I know that many professionals believe those words. For me, they give me heartburn.
If you know me, then you realize that I am a HUGE people fan. I believe in people. I promote the message to leaders to put more attention on people in their change efforts. And I stand for social justice being one of the two critical values going forward for our global community (the other being environmental sustainability). But the formula for successful transformational change requires more than just a generic focus on people.
You can focus on many different aspects of “people,” e.g., their behaviors, attitudes, skills, level of involvement, communications, mindsets, roles, compensation, or decision authority. What aspects are we speaking about when we say we need to focus on people?
Change management focuses on resistant behavior, communications, and stakeholder engagement, and most leaders today use some sort of change management support. But research shows 60-70% of change fails. Clearly this “people” approach is not adequate.
If you include mindset and culture in the equation, then I start to get behind the idea, as they are critical “people” dynamics, but also, not enough. First, many mindset approaches focus on mindset as a thing to talk about. This is much different than having leaders and staff actually do personal transformation work on themselves that actually shifts their mindset. Talking about mindset as an object does little. Working with your own mindset as a subject can do a lot. Which are we talking about?
Sometimes referring to people means engaging in more change communications and stakeholder engagement. All great stuff, but there are many forms of each. For example, just telling employees more information isn’t enough to make much of a difference with communication. Shifting from one-way dissemination of info to two-way dialogue helps, but if delivered as one stand alone event, there won’t be much improvement. If treated as an ongoing process, with multiple vehicles, messages and forms, then communications can make a big difference with people.
Similarly, stakeholder engagement is all the rage, but engage in what, how, when? All this makes a difference to the ultimate impact on people and change results.
And don’t forget the design of the change process. It can severely impact results from change, sometimes even more than human dynamics do. When your change leaders do not stop work and keep adding change to people’s already overflowing workload, no matter how much you communicate and engage, you won’t get great results from your change initiative. In fact, if you don’t handle the capacity issue, people will not want to hear about the change or be engaged in it.
Let’s get wiser. Let’s get more discerning. Let’s look beyond the politically correct notions of simply saying we need to focus on people more, and address specifically how we need to focus on them to deliver extraordinary results from our change efforts.
What aspects of the “people” leg of the stool do you think are essential in successful transformation?
I write this as we in the United States are on the verge of a federal government shutdown if our politicians cannot reach budget agreement today. The ramifications of such a shutdown are significant, and will effect many people’s lives. 800,000 federal employees won’t get paid, some people in need won’t receive services, and government facilities will close and not be available to the public.
And check this out: Linda is on her way to Washington D.C. right now to deliver a speech on leading transformation to – of all audiences – the Treasury Department, which will be cancelled if the government shuts down.
Will America get through this mess? Of course we will. The budge will get resolved, at least on the surface, but the underlying problem will linger, and this should be a deeper, growing concern for all of us.
The government shutdown is a result of egos run amuck. It is a reflection of our politician’s lower selves on display, not their best selves in action.
Here’s the underlying human dynamic occuring. Ego takes a position, establishes a boundary and does not want to move or compromise. Its position becomes an extention of its self. It ideologizes and makes those not adhering to its position wrong. The “other” becomes the enemy.
The ego holds itself as right, the other wrong, and is not readily open to being influenced. Collaboration is not its first instinct. It struts its feathers, puffs its chest and pontificates its moral positions.
And here’s the problem with these dynamics. Ego gets so wrapped up in this dance, that what is best for its larger community gets lost. Its identify with its self/position as republican or democrat, conservative or liberal becomes more important that what is best for America, let alone the world. It becomes more interested in winning the battle of ideologies and making its party look good and the other bad, than it cares about its fellow citizens. Its political conquest takes precedence over its public service. Of course, ego thinks it is right, and that adhering to its position is what is best for America.
The problems we face in our organizations, our countries and the world, cannot be resolved through ideology and pontification. Our leaders, and all of us, must wake up and become conscious of this continual lower self dance of the ego. We have to look up and across to a larger perspective, not continually focus down and in to our own worldviews. Otherwise, we can never really collaborate and generate the breakthroughs that can only come by our collective, co-creative participation.
The best solutions always come when we take a stand for and voice what we believe, and then open ourselves to listening to others and being willing to be influenced by their input. If our leaders and politicians would do that, then the dialogue would naturally evolve to the best solutions. But when the underlying motivation is ego driven – and we are unconscious of that – at best, we get compromise and marginal outcomes. This political, ego driven dance will end with the budget getting resolved, but whatever the outcome, it will not be the best possible solution.
Where are our co-creative leaders? You won’t find many in government, nor will you find many more in business. I saw research recently that suggested than more than 60% of leaders are not capable of leading. Ouch. This is a deeper concern for all of us.
What dynamics do you see at play in this budget standoff?
I learned a new, simple, highly useful meeting facilitation technique from my friend and colleague, Michael Wilkinson, at Leadership Strategies. Michael’s company does great facilitation training. Check them out at www.leadstrat.com. Michael and I were recently at the Instructional Systems Association Annual Business Retreat, and he shared this useful technique called, ELMO, aka, “enough, let’s move on.” Here’s how it goes:
As part of setting groundrules at the start up of a meeting, ask the group to agree to the ELMO rule. If someone yells ELMO during the meeting, then the facilitator pauses and asks for a vote. (Majority rules, although you can of course set your own decision protocol.) If the majority agrees that it is “enough, let’s move on,” then the facilitator stops the discussion and moves on to the next topic. If the majority disagrees, then you keep with the current discussion. Simple, elegant, effective.
I was recently at the Instructional Systems Association (ISA) Annual Business Retreat and heard a speaker talk about how to get speed in organizaitonal change. She had recently published a book on the matter. She concludes that two major things slow change efforts down: 1) too much focus on pace and 2) too much focus on process. The latter made my blood boil.
While I agreed with many of her points about organizational change, this latter point was so far off base that I literally had to read the PowerPoint slide three times to really believe she was saying that. I raised my hand. She called on me. “It’s not that leaders put too much focus on process,” I said. “Rather, they put too much focus on BAD process.”
Leaders often overlay a linear project management regimen on their change efforts, attempting to control them and fit them into a predetermined timeline and set of actions. Yes, this slows change dramatically. But this does not mean that they should take their focus off process. All change IS process. What is required is for leaders to shift their mindset and worldview – to elevate their awareness and understanding of process – so they can lightly design the change process, navigate it with continual course corrections as emerging dynamics require, and not get wedded to a process plan ever, and certainly not the actions depicted on it more than 90 days out.
What do you think about this point? Do you think leaders need less focus on the conscious design of their change processes, or a different kind of focus?
My father passed away on March 16, 2011. He was a beautiful man, strong, caring, and generous. He had loads of friends whom he cherished, loved being with people, and had a zest for life that drew people to him like a magnet. I have a very close, loving, and deeply respectful relationship with my dad. He was always my rock, and a deeply loving friend. No matter what I did, he always saw the best in me. His departure is a great loss.
But my experience of his passing is not so much loss as it is love and appreciation. Perhaps that is aided by his fifteen month battle with cancer. As you likely know, cancer is an insidious disease that slowly sucks the life out of loved one’s bodies. It was time for him to go. We all knew it, and we all had time to share tender moments of completion with him. Dad left being ready to go. He felt complete, appreciative and deeply satisfied with his life, and he knew he was loved and cared for by his family and friends. He departed with his loving wife of sixty years, my mother, at his side.
I am sure that all this helps me feel not my loss as much as my love and appreciation of dad. I know that his own readiness helps me live in the joyful memories of sharing these past 57 years of fun, pain, and growth with him. But there is more to it.
My friend and colleague, Bev Kaye, whom you may know of from her great books on employee retention (Love ‘Em or Leave “Em), sent me this beautiful poem yesterday that provides some insight. I am sorry but I do not know the author:
You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him,
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone,
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what he’d want…
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on!
The hardest transition – the death of a loved one – makes the truth of this poem so self-evident. But this truth is present in any transition, whether in our personal or organizational lives. Let’s unpack it.
In transition, we either lean away or towards it. We either orient to the past or the future. But more importantly, we either contract or expand in our way of being in these moments. Do we keep our hearts and minds open, or do we close off to feelings we do not like? Do we open and embrace those feelings, or do we deny and close down to them? When we close down to painful emotions (resistance), our hearts and minds close as well. The key to all transitions is being able to find comfort (stay open) in your discomfort.
My mom and I had a beautiful conversation about this personal dynamic two nights ago as we sat eating a lovely dinner at her and dad’s favorite restaurant in celebration of dad’s life. We talked about the fact that the pain of his departure will wave through us, and that our chosen way of being was to turn into that pain and allow ourselves to feel it fully, to let it pulse through us so we could express it, release it and get through it. Neither of us wanted to close off to the pain, as we both know that it will then get stuck in us and linger for years. We talked about the fact that if we can do this, then we can keep our love for dad alive in our hearts and minds because our love and memories will then stay alive in us. But if we close off to the pain, then we will simultaneously put dad’s memory in the background for it will be too painful to keep it fresh. We both choose to feel our pain so we can continue to feel dad and the love and joy he brought to our lives.
This, of course, is an advanced self mastery skill, and none of us do it masterfully all the time. But understand this – this understanding and skill is at the core of being a conscious change leader. The essential practice of self development and personal evolution is to open yourself and feel what your ego is trying to deny, as that extends the boundary of who your ego thinks you are into the greater depths of being and becoming of who you truly are. Ego is conditional. It sets boundaries and closes off to what it doesn’t like. Being is unconditional. It opens and stays present to all of life’s expressions. Residing in Being allows our love, connection and contribution to flow freely into the world in its highest forms. Being is the home of the inner comfort that allows us to face the discomfort. I know my dad would want his passing to strengthen my ability to reside in Being, and to this, I am both committed and thankful.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan are cold hard reminders of the fragility of life, no matter how secure we might seem at any moment. Our hearts go out to the Japanese people.
While any major event, both catastrophic or celebratory, can yield learning about transformational change, I tread lightly on using the devastation in Japan as a learning tool. So as I make the following points, my heart is heavy with the suffering thousands of people are enduring in Japan, and I am cautious about what may be coming.
Wake up calls come in many forms. You experience wake up calls for change every day, throughout the day. Every emotional contraction you have is a sign to let go of some attachment, a call to shift your perception. The cough in your chest or low energy you feel may be telling you to eat better, exercise more, stop smoking, or get more sleep. Your child’s lack of interest in school may be telling you to be more interested in her. Your organization’s low employee or customer service scores may be telling you to shift your organization’s leadership style or culture. When something isn’t working ideally, it is a call for change. Our job as conscious change leaders is to discover just what change is being called for.
What wake up calls do an earthquake and tsunami deliver? What necessary change might they be announcing?
It’s easy to discount natural disasters as wake up calls. They are natural. People didn’t cause them. But on a second look, there is something to learn, as always.
All machines break down. We know this. It’s called entropy, and it happens in all mechanical systems. Is nuclear power safe then? Can we keep plants from breaking down, isolated from natural phenomena? Is nuclear power environmentally sustainable when its waste is so highly toxic to any and all forms of life and has a half-life lasting many generations into the future? An egoistic, man-conquers-nature mentality says it is safe, especially when weighed against a country’s need for electricity. And herein lies the rub.
As our (ego) needs rise…we want more gadgets, more technology, more consumption, more economic benefit…our need for cheap electricity goes up. Simultaneously, our concerns about the tenuousness of nuclear power go down. Our ego needs shift the boundary of sensibility, and what was once a concern and questionable, all of a sudden becomes palatable.
I remember in the 1970’s debating with my dad, who was helping build a nuclear power plant, the costs, risks and benefits of nuclear. I was arguing for renewable energy sources like solar; he was arguing for nuclear because it was more efficient and cheaper. And it was. Why? Because our government invested in nuclear and not solar. For every dollar spent on nuclear research at the time, only pennies were spent on solar. No wonder solar stagnated as nuclear power plants were built across the country.
Many challenges in transformational change occur because people don’ t see the big picture. The purpose and gift of wake up calls are their blatant slaps in the face that say, “Pay attention here.” The risk of a nuclear meltdown in Japan is such a slap. It calls us to see beyond the lure of cheap electricity to perceive the underlying dynamics and wider implications.
Transformation almost always entails a radical shift of organizing principles that emerges out of an equally profound shift in worldview. With this shift, we perceive things differently, make different decisions, and take different actions, which deliver better outcomes.
Perhaps the earthquake and tsunami can help wake us collectively up to see that we need a new worldview and way of acting. Rather than man-conquers-nature, we need a worldview of people working with nature. To serve humanity in the most profound ways, technology needs to live within the bounds of what is life supporting and sustaining, not just consumption driving and cheap. We need to invest in technology that supports life and people, rather than what simply promotes economic growth. And it does not need to be either/or, but rather, both/and. We can have both environmental sustainability and economic growth. Investing in renewable energy will produce the same kind of job creation and wealth distribution that nuclear and oil did. It is an easy transformation to conceive, as long as you are not blinded by vested interests and ideology. Had we researched the heck out of sustainable energy back in the ’70’s, the Japanese people (and the world) would not be faced with a potential nuclear disaster today. I hope we get this wake up call.