Feeling nervous about change? We are too

In this deeply personal post, Unitive head Joe Ringer talks about his own change journey and what that means for change management. 

The irony isn’t lost on us here at Unitive when it comes to managing change. Fires, floods, plague and workplace shortages – not to mention supply chain and inflation – have us all feeling a little nervous about what the future will throw up next.

In late 2020, I faced the losses of two people close to me. The immediate weeks that followed revealed a rift inside, where there was more deep work to do. There’s nothing like being put to the test of what you to teach others to prove your own commitment to it. Those days seemed to surface every single deficiency I still had, without concern for how I felt.

It was a time to sit still, and ask whether I could bear to follow the advice I’d give to anyone leading change. Could I let my heart and emotions speak, even if I didn’t like what they said? Would I take the risk of being present to the storm within, and the deep breaths that I knew would open the floodgates?

Feeling Nervous About Change? We Are Too

As resistance faded, the reality shifted – from a dull emptiness, to waves that came and went. The questions transformed as well – from attempts to access my emotions, into ones that focused more on my identity. It was then I got hit with the biggest question facing leaders involved in: “Are you a ‘tourist,’ or a ‘traveller’?”

Tourists vs. Travelers

Tourists are concerned mainly with destinations. You can find tourists where I live easily, posing for photos in front of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. But what’s unique about Australia is that unless you’re visiting from New Zealand, it’s always a long flight to get here. Behind every tourist, in other words, is a long journey. And most tourists distract themselves or sleep through it.

Travellers, by contrast, pay attention to what the journey teaches, even in a monotonous routine like a 21-hour flight from London or an eight-hour jaunt from Singapore. (Doesn’t that sound strange, considering how much further away London is than Singapore?) Travellers never lose sight of outcomes, to be sure. But they pay far less attention to it than tourists.

The term “traveller” also settles a recurring issue for change leadership – how their teams perceive and respond to openness. There’s plenty of resistance to it, based on the emotional risks you take being vulnerable to people you lead. Here again, it’s important to strike balance with the motive of your actions. You’ll certainly end up disappointing people, and yourself, if the impulse is to win popularity contests.

But if humility is the impulse, you’re playing a different game. When you purposefully make time to check in with people, or be transparent with weaknesses and areas you lack wisdom, you do more than retain your positional authority. You enhance it.

Resisting the “Tourist” Mindset

So, I had to come to grips with a familiar challenge to leading change – the temptation to relapse into a “tourist” mindset. I was too anxious to get to the destination. It reminded me of all the muttering, at the end of 2020, to the tune of “I’m just eager for this year to be over.” Pinning your hopes to the turning of a calendar year is not a helpful strategy.

Happy travelling.

To find out more about the traveller’s toolkit we’ve assembled at Change Chef.

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