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Bridging Differences | Tips for Travelling to Diverse Worlds

Bridging Differences | Tips for Travelling to Diverse Worlds

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

• Marcel Proust

 

For four magical years, I lived in a mud hut in Tanzania, working with a non-governmental organization on changing roles in forest management. Surrounded by the majestic forests of the East Usambara Mountains, I revelled in the differences, a contrast so vast for my twenty-something mind to grasp. I often had difficulty believing my hometown in the north of England could co-exist in the same timeframe.

As with the systems coaching I do now, the people I worked with were the experts on their own system. My role was not to teach or give advice, but to facilitate learning and action. I helped to foster the local communities’ knowledge, awareness, intention and skill around the relationship to forest resources. I was the expert on bringing out their collective intelligence and supporting them to use it more powerfully.

In place of the office, conference, and meeting rooms I work in today, we met in more exotic environments: grass or tin-roofed houses, village government offices, fields, the forest, or under the shade of the village meeting tree.

I embraced much of village life – in part, as a necessary function of my work and everyday living, and also out of respect for, curiosity about and a desire to connect with the people with whom I lived. I crossed crocodile-infested rivers and carried water in a bucket on my head. I collected firewood, wild vegetables and mushrooms with the women in preparation for cooking the evening meal. I learned quickly which species of tree would burn fiercely, adding aroma and flavour to the food, and which would create so much smoke that my eyes would sting and stream. I learned which plants and mushrooms would nourish and heal rather than poison.

Of course I had challenges aligning some differences with my world view. Luckily for me, our project manager Makange was a master at bridging the differences between our two worlds.

 

“The moment individuals engage in relationship, they engage to some extent in international politics: the meeting of different worlds with similar and different needs.”

• Marita Fridjhon & Faith Fuller

 

We were different in so many ways. I was British, female, white, in my early 20s, university educated, and brought up in a rural town. Makange was Tanzanian, male, black, in his mid-40s, primary school educated, and brought up in a village.

Our first week working together was a steep learning curve. We circled each other, jostling over power and rank, and marking out the boundaries of our relationship. We were from two different worlds, and our rules of engagement were vastly different. After playing games for three days we finally sat down and worked it out. The atmosphere was a little cool for a day, but not so cool that a little humour couldn’t warm it.

On the morning of the first meeting we led together, I heard Makange chanting and singing in a whisper. I was curious and asked what he was doing. He shared his special magic ritual. It would allow him to speak the right words, so that all would hear each other and be agreeable. Whatever the reason, the day of that first meeting was incredible. We were meant to co-lead.

A local Msambaa himself, Makange knew the lay of the land.

 

“Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

• Mark Twain

 

‘African time’ was one cultural difference that truly challenged me. I was careful to set appropriate meeting times for communities – no clashes with funerals, weddings, festivals, market or firewood collection days, no conflict with seasonal field work or daily house work. Yet meetings still habitually started at least an hour later than scheduled. I knew that people in the village didn’t have watches or clocks, but was still frustrated by the relaxed attitude toward time.

It took us an hour or two to walk to hilltop villages. We would wait another two before starting a meeting which often lasted two to three hours. Afterward we would make the long trek back home through forests filled with snakes, attacking safari ants, and the occasional angry hornet. Often, a fallen tree or swollen river diverted us.

One day, in frustration, I suggested to Makange that we simply arrive to meetings an hour later than scheduled. I don’t know how he managed not to laugh! Having worked closely with Europeans for many years, he also knew something of the wazungu obsession with time.

With a twinkle in his eye and his usual sense of humour, he simply reminded me of the ‘bush-phone.’ We needed to be at the meeting place at or before the scheduled time. This would initiate the passing on of news of our arrival from house to house and field to field. Gradually everyone would receive the news and come in from the fields, get washed, eat, and then come to the meeting.

Our challenge was to honour the less hurried pace of life and allow time to connect with people individually, while also appreciating my impatience and faster-paced, task-orientated way of doing things. Makange and I created a strategy that worked for us as a pair and for the community as a whole.

Being the faster walker on the mountain pathways, I would arrive first to greet the elders sitting in the shade of the meeting tree. As I waited for Makange, I learned the joy of watching the world go by.

Upon his arrival, he would take up conversation with the elders. I would then be off to become part of the bush phone, moving from house to house, greeting the women, being welcomed to food, and initiating discussion about the meeting at hand.

If the meeting took an interminable time to get started, I could always sit in the shade with my latest novel and disappear into yet another world. It wasn’t quite the accepted behaviour, but since I was often seen as an alien anyway, I could get away with some odd behaviour from time to time.

My strange look, sound, and smell and weird way of speaking Kiswahili and the local Kisambaa language served to entertain the village children and some adults.

 

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

• Henry David Thoreau

 

Makange and I learned to bridge many differences over the four years we lived and worked together. It wasn’t always as easy as the agreements we made over African time, and it wasn’t always pretty!

I often wondered Makange tried out his magic with me. Once, I found him trying to catch my first footprints of the day. Over the years I found small newspaper-wrapped ‘medicine’ packages in strange places – under the driver’s seat of the Land Rover, and under my bed! When I asked about it, he told me not to worry, as his medicine never worked on me.

Through my experience in living in Tanzania and working with Makange, you might think that by now, I’d have learned to embrace the differences in all my professional and personal relationships.

Let’s just say I’m human – or perhaps still an alien – and a work in progress. I can still be shocked each time I discover I’m on another planet, speaking a foreign language, or worse still, that others are looking at me as if I’ve grown pointy ears. Ever had that experience with a work colleague? Generational, gender, cultural and personal differences can all be part of the territory in a professional environment.

What can we do to bridge the differences between our differing worlds and views of reality? As Fridjhon and Fuller suggest – travel. Whether you are actually visiting another country or simply exploring a different work environment, these travel tips can help to prepare you for the most eye-opening trips of a lifetime – the journey into another’s internal land.

 

Tips for travelling to diverse worlds

 

Tip 1 – Be willing to travel.

Most of us are so used to the personal and cultural values, norms and assumptions of our own internal world and culture that we spend little time truly exploring another world. Although I may have travelled a long way physically to be in a remote Tanzanian village, at times I was less than willing to travel emotionally.

Give yourself a vacation and visit a different viewpoint. I encourage you to try it. If it doesn’t turn out to be a vacation, at least it’ll be an experience. Remember you don’t have to take up residence. You are just visiting. You can return to your own land at any time.

Tip 2 – Leave your baggage at home.

Each of us is a complex land of preferences, beliefs, and values created through socialization, education, culture, religion, and personal experience. When you travel to another land, leave your baggage – your position on a topic or issue – behind. Your role is to remain open to experiencing the way things are from another perspective. So when you travel, please travel lightly. Your heavy baggage can stay at home, and all your creature comforts will be there for you when you return.

My baggage did always contain a book. Sometimes a flooded river meant I would be stuck somewhere for three days or more, and there was only so much Kiswahili I could speak each day without my brain bursting. Still, I was always conscious of the impact my reading had on those around me. I would explain that when I wanted to be alone with a book, I was okay, I wasn’t lonely and didn’t need rescuing. More often than not, I would put down my book, share the story and hear amazing stories in return.

Tip 3 – Dress for the climate.

Check out the climate before you go. Ever dressed for the tropics and then felt a little chilly? Anticipate differences from place to place. For instance, it makes as much sense for me to expect an immediate response from a laid-back introverted colleague as to expect fast food in my remote Tanzanian village (though tell that to a donor who visited our project).

Tip 4 – Be a good visitor.

Most of us agree on what attitudes make a good visitor to a foreign country, and the same attitudes apply when you visit a co-worker’s world. Bring your respect, open-mindedness, observation, curiosity, awareness and willingness to learn. Give yourself permission to not know everything and to be taught how it’s done in this other place. Find out what’s important in their world and the value of their way of doing things. Revel in the mystery and adventure of learning about a foreign land and another person.

Tip 5 – Be appreciative and willing to be influenced.

Notice what you appreciate about the other person’s way of being. What might be useful to bring into your partnership? What does another way of doing things have to offer? Be willing to be influenced by the other.

Tip 6 – Get an experienced guide.

While you can make the journey alone following tips, advice, guidelines and guidebooks, all of the greatest explorers of the world know that it’s often easier, quicker, less intimidating, and more rewarding to go with an experienced guide. If you are exploring a different work environment, a systems coach may be your best resource.

With practice, you can become a master traveller, growing in awareness about what’s important to you and others. Once you learn to appreciate other ways of perceiving reality, the real adventure begins. Your challenge is to intentionally evolve and co-create a new environment that brings the best of both worlds – as well as any exotics you wish to import from your travels.

As for me, I’m forever grateful for the time I spent with Makange in my remote Tanzanian village. Sadly, Makange died a year after I left Tanzania. In his honour, I continue to master my skill as an explorer, collaborator, and guide as I co-create partnerships that bridge the differences between worlds.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Does exploring new cultures intrigue you?

Power Plays and Politics in Leading Change

Power Plays and Politics in Leading Change

“Power is more than an objective assignment of position, or the possession of status … Power is a state of mind.”

• Julie Diamond

 

“I’m tired of all the power plays,” I hear myself say.

It’s an odd sentiment for a systems coach to express. By definition, my work is all about revealing the relationship dynamics of leaders, teams and organizations to themselves. This is for the sole purpose of becoming more powerful, together, as it is powerful relationships that lead change.

Internal politics and the unconscious use of power can hinder change if they do not serve the higher purpose of the organization. As coaches, we have the privilege of playing the role of observer and revealer. We support leaders and teams in leading creatively together, rather than sabotaging each other.

From time to time, we get caught in the crossfire between different factions who are vying for power.

Even as a trained coach, there have been times when I have felt powerless amidst the crossfire. It’s been a challenge to focus. To my chagrin, I have even become reactive at times, rather than leading from a creative mindset.

 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

• Viktor E. Frankl

 

I realize that I have an ambiguous relationship with power, both hating and desiring it. I especially hate power that is used insidiously. Learning that others who I liked, believed in and trusted are playing power games behind the scenes can leave me feeling blindsided and foolish.

In studying Julie Diamond’s A User’s Guide to Power, I discover that allowing my feelings of foolishness to run amok is my first error. To avoid leading from a reactive mindset of indignation, we must embrace vulnerability and remain in a creative mindset. Being aware of feelings is paramount to using our own power responsibly.

My second error is in underestimating the power of myself and my team, while overestimating others’ power. We do not have to place our own feelings of worth in the hands of others.

At times, our team has been power blind – unable to recognize our own value. Although as coaches we have little positional and historical power in the organizations we serve, we do have sociopolitical and informal power through our roles as expert consultants.

We also have power in how we show up and present ourselves in general. To some, that power is intimidating, frightening, and threatening.

 

“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.”

• Joss Wheden

 

Once we remove the power blindfold, we see more clearly how others perceive us. It can be a surprise – how powerful we look. Diamond advises us to remain aware of our feelings and our own self-perceived power as we continue to work alongside others.

The more we step into our personal power, the less likely we are to react defensively, protectively, or aggressively towards any power players, and the more likely we are to respond creatively and de-escalate the conflict.

 

Take off the power blindfold and recognizing your own worth. Drawing on our power as change leaders allows us to act with compassion, curiosity and courage towards those who may feel threatened by us as a symbol of change.

 

Power is indeed a state of mind.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Do you see yourself as powerful or powerless in leading change?

From Managing Change to Leading Change

From Managing Change to Leading Change

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

• Albert Einstein

 

You have a brilliant idea to progress your organization, yet you hesitate to bring it forward. When you tried to manage change in the past, team members rebelled. You wish they could share in your vision.

Have you ever seen a starling murmuration? They are vivid visual representations of leading change. The action of one bird triggers a ripple of motion through the rest. Although it can be difficult to pinpoint where the impulse begins, it echoes to create swirling and ever-evolving patterns of motion in flight.

 

“Starling flocks … are best described with equations of ‘critical transitions’ – systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other.”

• Wired Magazine’s Brandon Kiem

 

Other types of systems, from human social groups to ecosystems, immune systems and the stock market, can behave in similar ways.

Once, we thought of change as a somewhat mechanical process that could be designed and managed. Change management involves planning, organization, budgeting, staffing, measurement and solutions. Set into motion, it is expected – for the most part – to work in predictable and linear ways.

In the era of management for production, this strategy worked. It was possible to make a change in one place and predict what would happen elsewhere. Change could be controlled using a recipe.

Today’s world is fast-paced and in constant flux. Even the way we think about change is changing. The transformational, cultural changes we are trying to create are complex, with many moving parts. Multiple stakeholders are involved. They need to buy into the reasons behind change and become excited about it.

 

To encourage evolving and innovative change, relationship is key. It is powerful relationships that create meaningful change.

 

Change leadership involves envisioning, inspiring, influencing, engaging and emerging change – techniques that help develop collaborative, responsive teams. Rather than simply managing change, organizations are beginning to lead change as well. T

hink of it like raising a family. Each child is unique, and there is no perfect process. Just because you have brought up one in a certain way doesn’t mean the same strategies will work for another.

 

Collaboration is an essential part of creating a team that is able to pivot, innovate and evolve.

 

Effective change leadership can be contagious. Once a few core people are truly inspired, they convey that energy to the rest of the team. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Some might say that there is no need to distinguish between change management and change leadership. However, many who train and consult in the field of change management have already realized the value of evolving the role of change leader.

To lead change in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, we must let go of control and embrace evolution. As agents of change, bringing more awareness to how we see and speak about change allows us to become more intentional and skilled in working with it. 

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Has your thinking about how to create change evolved?

Courage | A Magic Carpet to Change

Courage | A Magic Carpet to Change

Courage is essential to change leadership. It’s a magic carpet that can carry us over the edge of change.

 

Finding the courage to pursue your dreams by speaking them out loud takes time and practice, but it is a skill worth nurturing. 

I grew up in a small market town, ten miles from the Lake District in the North of England, home to The Factory and a view of the mountainous shoulders of Skiddaw. 

My father was an idealist, my mother a realist. When I was seven, she asked me what I wanted for Christmas.

 

“A carpet,” I said.

“A carpet?” she asked. “Do you mean a rug?”

“Yes,” I said, not daring to offer more information.

“No toys?”

“No, thank you.”

 

Santa brought me the rug. It was white synthetic goat skin, not the Persian carpet I’d had in mind. Nevertheless I hurtled upstairs to unfurl the adventure, for this was to be my magic carpet!

It didn’t fly as I’d imagined it would.

Sitting on my rug, I realized I should have told my Mam it was meant to be a magic carpet. I’d been scared that she would laugh, or say it was not possible. I thought Santa would help her out with the magic part!

I decided that next time I wanted something, I’d have the courage to be more specific. I lay down in the scratchiness of the rug and daydreamed my way to foreign lands.

 

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” 

• Anaïs Nin

 

Years later in London, I sat down to be interviewed for an administrative job. I hoped it would pay for my master’s degree, allowing me to do the work I dreamed of doing in Africa. 

The director asked what I wanted to do with my life. I gathered my courage and was specific with what I told her. I didn’t leave anything out – including my vision of living in Africa one day.

Then she asked me if I could type, and if I had my driver’s license. I knew I’d lost the administrative job.

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” 

• Nelson Mandela

 

Still, my courage in telling the truth paid off. The director gave me the work I’d described, a position that up to that point hadn’t existed in that organization. Six months later, I was on a plane headed for Tanzania, East Africa.

Over the years, I have practiced sharing with others what I want and dream for myself and the world. It’s uncomfortable. I risk being vulnerable. I’ve opened myself up to potential ridicule and being told it’s not possible.

 

Yet each time I find the courage to share my heart, it’s been worth the risk. I’ve discovered allies.

 

Allies who connect with the heart of my vision. Allies that support me to go over the edge and make what’s possible a reality.

My allies have championed, supported, and sponsored me. They have cheered me on, blown a trumpet for me, opened doors, and guided me in the right direction. Some have even clambered up on to the magic carpet and joined me for the ride.

 

What visions do you hold close in your heart? Unfurl your magic carpet. Gather your allies. Find the courage to speak your dreams aloud, so that the process of turning them into reality can begin.

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Has courage ever taken you over the edge of change?

 

Leading Innovation with the Growth Mindset

Leading Innovation with the Growth Mindset

“This is a time of tremendous change where, like it or not, you’re going to have periods of confusion. Like it or not, you’re going to turn into a novice over and over again.”

• Carol Dweck

 

Ninety minutes into a workshop about leading change effectively, the questions begin.

 “Where are the steps?” 
“Do we get copies of all the slides?” 

These questions – voiced by some, thought by others – are often asked by groups nervous about the trajectory of a course. Will they leave with all they wanted? 

Perhaps this journey is not one the participants had expected, but it is what they need to lead innovative change. Becoming novices over and over again means that as change leaders, we must become comfortable with ambiguity. We must first move away from the Fixed Mindset that wants to ensure we’re safe and secure by following predictable steps.

It is like peering over the edge of a precipice, uncertain about where we will end up. Instead of specific steps, this path consists of steep cliffs and valleys with thick woods. Our job as leaders is to invite and inspire participants over the edge into a new mindset.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck developed the concept of fixed and growth mindsets while studying achievement and success. Her research suggests that those with a fixed mindset believe that levels of intelligence and talent are unchanging. The desire is to be seen as smart and to prove ourselves and never fail. Individuals with this mindset may react to problems with controlling, protecting and complying tendencies. 

In contrast, a growth mindset focuses on developing knowledge, awareness, intention and skill that can be applied moment to moment. We believe that we can learn and grow through effort, perseverance, success and failure. We want to stretch, take risks and learn. 

 

Change leaders need the ingredients – processes, practices and tools – but not a recipe!

 

Recipes or defined steps are useful in managing change, in creating well-defined, routine processes. In this predictable environment, unknowns, ambiguities and mistakes are unexpected. Conformance to specification is crucial and small changes can be adequately managed. Any failures are due to an inability or unwillingness to follow procedure.

However, change in today’s rapidly changing world tends to be complex and innovative rather than routine. Change management alone – with specific recipes and steps – is not adequate in dealing with complex processes that happen over and over again, but never exactly the same way twice. 

Innovative change requires ambiguity. Multiple perspectives are apparent and relationships are key to understanding and engaging with complex dynamics. Uncertainty and some level of failure is unavoidable. 

Change leaders who shift their mindset from certitude to inquiry are better able to lead themselves, others and their organizations through transition with compassion, courage, and curiosity.

 

In leading innovative change, as when developing a brand new product, business venture, market, or way of operating, much is unknown and there is high uncertainty. Tolerance for intelligent failures from experimentation must be high.

 

Change leaders who can exist with ambiguity and the creative tension of paradoxes are better placed to shift the collective mindset to that of a learning organization. This environment fosters high levels of psychological safety and accountability, and an openness to what emerges.

“Most of the ways we were taught to think, to reason, to understand simply don’t give us the means to make wise decisions anymore. We don’t know how to be wise stewards of the dilemmas and challenges that confront us daily. We were not taught how to make sense of a chaotic world, or a world-wide interconnected web of activity and relationships.”
• Margaret Wheatley, management consultant

 

Becoming an effective change leader means first changing ourselves. We must shed our old self for a new one, and go through the same fundamental shift of heart, head, and gut that we want for our organizations and the world. 

 

Many unknowns, uncertainties, and ambiguities – different people, teams and contexts – exist in leading change. Yet with compassion and collaboration, courage and conviction, curiosity and creativity, we have the privilege of being witness to changing mindsets on both a personal and collective level. 

Rather than following a defined path, focusing on personal and collective development allows us to deepen our knowledge, awareness, intention and skill.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | What strategies might encourage a growth mindset in your organization?

 

Here Be Dragons | Revealing hidden obstacles to change

Here Be Dragons | Revealing hidden obstacles to change

As I stand at the heart of confused and disorganized change, turbulence swirls around me and through those closest to me.

 

From this vantage point in the eye of the storm, I see the reactivity created by controlling and compliant behaviors. A tendency toward control in the overarching system has triggered compliance in the smaller sub-systems. 

Compliance is driven by limiting beliefs, by old stories that say we must play nice, must fit in, must not rock the boat, if we are to be safe and worthy. The behaviours that tend to show up are pleasing, belonging, and passivity. 

In the eye of this storm of change, I’ve been left standing. Wondering what response is needed from me in the moment, how I have allowed this to happen and where I have been complicit.

For I have been complicit, having seen signs of controlling and the potential for compliance. I signaled it, but only weakly. I doubted myself, thinking that I was making it up. I was passive.

 

Control and compliance, left unchallenged, limit our ability to step fully into creative leadership and innovative change.

 

It’s in this realization that I feel my old dragon stir from sleep, dusty and sleepy-eyed, unkempt. With torn talons, my dragon has risen up to protect myself and my team. 

I want to burn my hot hacking breath into the systems that ‘just don’t get it.’

I catch myself in my arrogance. It is me that is not ‘getting it.’ In these moments of fire, I am being reactive in my desire to protect.

What would be most useful in these moments of turmoil? How can I become responsive rather than reactive? Where can I step into my creativity?

I settle my dragon. Breathe into courage, and commitment to the system work I believe so deeply in. Breathe into compassion and collaboration with my partners. Breathe into curiosity and creativity and the creativity of systems in which I form a part.

 

My dragon wipes the sleep from her eyes. Amusing to me, as the root word for dragon in ancient Greek was drakōn, meaning ‘to see clearly’ or ‘that which sees,’ and related to drakos, or ‘eye’. 

 

As my dragon awakens, I am at the edge of change in my personal leadership, venturing into new territory. 

Rather than just blowing hot air, my dragon has the ability to choose to see with great clarity and wisdom, and reflect back to the system what she observes.

 

Rather than being arrogant or superior, the task is simply to notice and reveal the system to itself.

 

At this leadership edge, as in old mariner maps, I note that ‘here be dragons.’  My dragon has a role to play – not to breathe fire, but to see and reveal in the process of leading change. 

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | What advantage could clear sight bring to the process of change?

Trusting the Tension of Creative Change

Trusting the Tension of Creative Change

“The thing about human beings is that we are more than one thing. We are multiple selves …. You can’t be one thing without being, in some ways, the other thing. It’s about how to reconcile, how to be tolerant of all the possibilities.”
• Ali Smith

 

In her prize-winning novel, How to be Both, Ali Smith evokes mysteries of time and identity – being both alive and not alive, both male and female, living in one place but also another. Experiencing past, present and future all at once.

The idea of being ‘both’ is inherent in leading change. At times, no single right answer exists. Situations and ideas can be messy, fuzzy or complex.

The structure and story of Smith’s novel itself was inspired by the layered frescos of the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrrara, Italy. The name Schifanoia is thought to originate from schivar la noia meaning literally to escape from boredom. It is a palace of not being bored – of surprise. 

Surprise arises from four factors – ambiguity, novelty, uncertainty, and vulnerability, according to Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected by skill trainers Luna and Renninger.

In becoming comfortable with change, we can explore these same factors to develop a tolerance – an acceptance of ambiguity, of novelty, of uncertainty, and of vulnerability. Developing each form of change tolerance is essential to creating an organization with a climate, mindset and culture of change.

 

Ambiguity – shifting from one possibility to many

Our complex world needs leaders who embrace and imbue tolerance for ambiguity in themselves and the culture of their organizations. Such leaders hear and encourage all the voices – both hopes and fears – around a change initiative. 

 

Being accepting of ambiguity equips change leaders to work with multiple, often contradictory viewpoints in themselves and others.

 

They model this tolerance, imbibing it into an organization to create a change-tolerant culture.

 

Novelty – shifting from the usual to the unusual

Does a new experience make your head, heart, and gut perk up and pay attention? As new technologies and ways of working increase exponentially, change leaders must both embrace and imbue a tolerance for novelty.  These leaders are able to both jump into and seek out new experiences.

 

Accepting novelty means change leaders come to new experiences with a learner’s mindset and a willingness to experiment and fail in order to grow.

 

They encourage engagement, creativity and innovation, creating psychologically safe and accountable cultures.

 

Uncertainty – shifting from the known to the unknown

Uncertainty is present in situations that involve one right answer that is unknown. In less complex times, it was much easier to be certain. Certainty was praised in our leaders, and a general intolerance for uncertainty was demonstrated. 

For today’s leaders, certainty is much less valuable. Certainty can even be dangerous when an answer is forced rather than being allowed to emerge. We may lose ground when we stick with what is certain rather than exploring the unknown. 

 

Change leaders tolerant of uncertainty are able to stay in the fog longer, opening up to the wisdom of others and the potential for even greater opportunities.

 

Vulnerability – shifting from control to connection

When we give up control of how others see us and share what is really going on, vulnerability is present. As change speeds up, leaders are tasked with becoming more adept at guiding people through change transitions.

 

Those who accept vulnerability in themselves and others tend to develop deeper emotional connections, earning the trust of those they lead.

 

They become able to lead others more quickly and easily over the edge of change.

Ambiguity, novelty, uncertainty and vulnerability – these are the edges change leaders must become aware of and work to cross in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. 

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | What is your strategy for building an acceptance of change in yourself and your organization?

Change Resistance – The Watchdog of Change

Change Resistance – The Watchdog of Change

Believe it or not, standing firm against change can be valuable to a change initiative.

 

Resistance to change can come from deep within. In Michael Crummey’s novel Sweetland, a contemporary Newfoundland community explores the possibility of being resettled. Specifically, the government requires that one hundred percent of the community must agree. One person refuses.

The novel mirrors reality. In the 2016 census, fifteen people called the tiny Newfoundland settlement of William’s Harbour home. Ninety percent of the residents were required to agree to resettlement before it could happen. This change process differed significantly from the forced resettlement of outpost communities that took place between the mid-1950s and 1970s. 

When power to William’s Harbour was finally turned off in the late fall of 2017, only one family remained.

If you were a member of one such community, what change role would you play? 

 

We each play various roles in change. We may prefer a particular role, identifying as a Leaper, a Bridge Builder or a Tradition Holder.

 

Perhaps you would be a Leaper, restless and bored with the status quo. You are enthusiastic about change and excited about the possibilities ahead of you. You might even initiate the idea to resettle. 

Maybe you would be a Bridge Builder: waiting to see details of what is being proposed and how others react before signing on. Once on board, you suggest improvements to the change initiative and become a spokesperson, sharing the idea with others in your community. 

Finally, you might play the role of a tradition holder, like Moses in Crummey’s novel – suspicious of the change and labeled as ‘resistant.’

The role we play will also depend on the specific change proposed to us. Whichever position we take, it’s important to be aware of the role we embody – to intentionally leverage the strengths and minimize the challenges of our role and that of those around us.

 

All too often, when we stand as Leaper or Bridge Builder, we dismiss the value of Tradition Holder.

 

Yet this voice is significant. Many successful change initiatives are only realized once those who step into Tradition Holder have been honoured.

It takes courage to stand firm in the face of change. When Tradition Holder strengths are leveraged, they act as watchdogs of change. If we are in danger of losing the integrity of our culture, they sound the alarm. 

 

What’s at stake if we do not honour our Tradition Holders? They become ferocious protectors, guard dogs rather than watch dogs.

 

They can change a gateway with access and entry points to a fortress, a stronghold that is fortified and heavily protected.

Instead, appreciate the role of the watchdog in the process of change. A Tradition Holder, speaking with courageous authenticity and championing the traditional ways, helps to ensure that nothing of value is lost. 

Once honoured, they share the knowledge of who to talk to and how to get things done. Now, there’s a big difference!

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | When has a tradition holder proved valuable to your change initiative?

Leading Change with Core Value Stories

Leading Change with Core Value Stories

“At the end of the day, you just ask yourself, ‘How did our vision and values influence decisions I made today?’ If they did not, then they are pretty much BS.”
• Peter Senge, systems scientist 

 

Core values are vital to engaging your team and creating a culture of positivity, productivity, and purpose. Yet all too often, organizations create a set of values that grow dusty on paper and are rarely expressed through their people. So how can change leaders place core values at the heart of a vision for change? Consider using value stories, a key tool in integrating core values into your change initiative. 

 

Stories that highlight and honour the expression of core values speak to the heart as well as the mind. 

 

Value stories are short narratives that focus on a moment where an individual, team, organization, or community fully honours and expresses a core quality or strength. Values that may have been invisible become visible.

The strategies for involving this tool are only limited by your imagination. Weaving value stories into the process of leading change helps to embed core values in your organization’s culture. For instance:

• Start or end meetings with the sharing of personal, team or organizational value stories.
• Share value stories in communication messages.
• Dedicate meeting rooms or hallways to a particular value and the story that accompanies it.

Leading change is all about developing new norms in attitudes and behaviour. Weaving value stories throughout the transformation process of changing climate, mindset and culture allows each person to live and breathe into the change. Here we explore how value stories might be incorporated into a change initiative.

 

Use value stories to establish a sense of urgency.

Clarifying core values is the first step in inspiring change and moving forward into a new way of being.  To understand which behaviors can take you forward and which ones need to be left behind, first examine your organization’s existing value stories. Honour old value stories for their usefulness in the past, and use them to address any ‘ghosts.’

 

Previous managers and social norms can haunt an organization, long after an individual has left or standards have outlived their usefulness. 

 

Change leaders can use this history to push the level of urgency up. Ask questions of your team, such as
• Why is it important for transformation to happen?
• What’s at stake if we remain complacent?

 

Use value stories to create strong change leadership teams.

New habits and attitudes are often required to develop teams strong enough to lead lasting behavioural change. Value stories can be a tool in creating a safe and courageous space. This helps team members to get up close and personal to new behaviours demonstrated by change leaders, without having to take the initial risk.

 

“Stories are the flight simulators of social life.”
• Keith Oatley, psychologist and novelist 

 

The flight simulator effect of creating, collecting and honouring the value stories now becomes paramount. Include value stories about leading change through teamwork. These stories help teams understand how to guide others to and over the edge of change.

 

Use value stories to reinforce your vision.

Vision and values are intricately woven. Core values complete the portrait of your organization as you develop a vision and strategy for moving forward.

Develop value stories that highlight your organization’s future potential. This helps to ground the vision for change, highlighting how stepping into intentional attitudes and values can overcome challenges to a desired change.

 

Use value stories to communicate a vision for change. 

Now, use those future potential value stories to reinforce your vision, showing others a portrait of the attitudes, behaviours and actions required to implement change. Communicating the change vision involves much more than simply sharing through words. Your vision must be communicated through deeds. Values in action say more than words, and the actions of your change leadership team must be congruent with the change vision.

Your team is watching! At this point, value stories are useful in acknowledging and appreciating those who honour core values. Showcase individuals and teams who are already demonstrating required behaviours. Sharing these values stories heightens the awareness of others to what is expected and needed. 

At this stage in a change initiative, nothing disempowers change leaders and change leadership teams more than an individual not fully on board with the need for change. Those unable to demonstrate the required values in action must be confronted, and either demoted or asked to leave.

 

Use value stories to generate short-term wins.

Story plays a huge role in acknowledging wins. Remain aware of the story arc of change, be clear on when wins are needed, and acknowledge those wins. Sharing short-term wins helps your team to see progress, shows the required attitudes and behaviours required, and encourages your organization to keep supporting the change initiative.

 

Use value stories to consolidate gains and produce more change.

Hiring and supporting people and teams who can implement the change vision is essential at this stage. The beauty in fully honouring core values is that hiring and succession planning becomes easier. Individuals with core personal and team values that align with core organizational values can be quickly welcomed on board.

Ask potential change leaders and change leadership teams to use value stories to express how their personal and team values align with the values of the change vision. This easily highlights who you should hire, promote and develop, and sends a clear message of what is required.

 

Use value stories to anchor your evolving culture.

John Kotter, a Leading Change expert, warns against the myth that the biggest impediment to creating change is the organization’s culture. This myth leads to attempts to change corporate culture right from the beginning of a change initiative. 

However, values can’t be forced. Instead, amplify them through expressing and honouring value stories. Keep in mind that without values in action, there can be no stories to share.

Remember, creating, collecting and sharing value stories throughout the process of leading change will serve any change initiative well. At the end of the process, remember to record your value stories, creating a portrait of a change leadership team and an organization transformed.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Where do your personal values intertwine with your organization’s values?

Influencing the Winds of Change

Influencing the Winds of Change

“We can see the clouds move, but we cannot see the wind. 
We can see the tides come and go, 
but we do not feel the moon’s gravity that moves them.”
 
• Arnold Mindell

 

At any moment, multiple potential futures are possible.

 

When you think about your personal future, you imagine the many possible futures that could unfold. When you engage our family, team, organization, community, or world in a big opportunity for change, you lead them in imagining a new vision for the future. 

You engage them in an act of collective imagination. Uncertainty is a part of the process, and with that uncertainty comes a myriad of potential futures.

Yet not all potential futures are desirable. Some potential futures are dreamlike, while others feel more like nightmares. Invisible forces are associated with imagined futures. These forces have the power to create our reality. 

Social change specialist Arnold Mindell recognized the power of these invisible forces in shaping reality. 

 

In the same way that invisible forces of the wind and moon affect the earth, our dreams, hopes, fears and expectations create our reality.

 

Some forces push us towards creating the dream, while others pull us into a nightmare. The potential futures that we collectively imagine impact our ability to inspire change, influence transition, and emerge transformation. 

Ultimately, these invisible forces influence whether a change initiative will fail or succeed.

Experienced change leaders make the invisible visible. They are aware of and intentionally work with the winds of change, both in themselves and in others. They create a safe and courageous space to hear and work with both hopes and fears associated with change. Throughout the change initiative, they continue to check in on what’s happening below the surface.

It can be easy for those leading change to fall into the trap of suppressing fear, out of concern that it will unbalance those around them. 

 

However, just because fear is unspoken or hidden does not mean it has no impact.

 

Bottled-up fear grows more under pressure, leaking out or eventually exploding to create the nightmare.

Being an effective change leader requires speaking to fear with as much courageous vulnerability as hope. Modelling change leadership brings the invisible to the fore for our teams and gives others permission to do the same.

Only once all fears and hopes are out in the open can they be explored for validity and addressed. Only then can a change leader influence those around them to move towards a vision of hope. In this way, leaders can truly influence the winds of change.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

Question | What invisible hopes and fears are creating your reality?