To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear—their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking—with nothing more to offer perhaps than possibility. ~Martin Linsky
As Thanksgiving nears, I look out my window and see the few remaining leaves wafting to the ground. It’s a visual reminder of change. Of course, I know that the changing of the seasons is coming, as it does every year. Because of decades of experience, I also know that possibility is also coming, that spring will emerge in a few months and leaves will once again the trees will be abundant with leaves outside my window. Even still, having experienced this change for decades, I feel a bit of loss as another year begins to come to a close.
That’s why change is so hard. Even with real life experience telling us that new possibilities are in the future, we still feel a sense of loss for what is in our past and present. The past and present are known. The future is unknown. It is a possibility.
I have no doubt that a number of people reading this are thinking, “I love change. I’m even good at change.” If that’s you, I encourage you to keep reading.
Will you walk naked into the land of uncertainty?
One of my favorite books—which is obvious because it’s filled with highlights, dogeared pages, and sticky notes—is Deep Change by Robert E. Quinn. The title of the first chapter is “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” I’ve highlighted on that first page these two sentences: “The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.”
In my experience, I have found that most leaders are good at suggesting and even requiring organizational change. But personal change, that’s another story; because that frequently requires surrendering control. Quinn states later, “To bring out deep change in others, people have to reinvent themselves.” In other words, Quinn argues that leaders can lead change, only when they first change themselves.
Are you currently asking people to change, offering them nothing more than possibility as a future? Then begin that change effort by asking how you, the leader, need to change.
Three Questions to Consider
Here are three questions (of course there are more) for you to consider as you live dangerously and lead people through difficult change.
- What control do you need to surrender?
- What kind of behavior(s) do others need to see from you to be willing to cross the bridge with you as you are building it?
- When do you need to get out of the way so the change can really happen?
As Martin Linsky said, “To lead is to live dangerously.” When leadership counts, you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear. In times of difficult change, lead with bold grace.