Why change-pain is the only constant

Mar 14, 2018
Change leaders

Change leaders

“Change is the only constant” the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said 500 years BC. Change Leaders

Having spent the last 20 years developing corporate cultures, teams and organizations in constantly changing markets and business landscapes, I couldn’t agree more.

Rapid, uncontrollable changes are one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. Willingness and ability to handle them might be their greatest opportunity.

In a recent Deloitte survey, thousands of surveyed CEO’s were asked what kept them up at night. 80% of them replied that they were concerned about their organizations’ ability to change quickly enough. With exponential changes triggered by new technologies, globalization and demographic changes, understanding how to make the inside of an organizations change as quickly as the outside, has evolved from being the headaches of the organizational development managers to be the source of sleepless nights for the CEOs.

So what is it about change that makes it so hard? And how come that 70 % of all organizational change efforts seem to fail?

Having worked with, met and learned from some pretty amazing leaders from all parts of the world for 2 decades now, I have learned that there are 3 fundamental skills great Change Leaders truly master.

  • They communicate with people’s minds
  • They connect with people’s hearts
  • They endure the change-pain

Let me explain.


Communicating with people’s minds.

In Stephen Covey’s classic and brilliant book “7 habits of highly effective people”, habit number 5 is this: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

The greatest Change Leaders I know, listen more than they speak. They meet people where they are, listen to their concerns, generously share and discuss and invite to dialogue about the changes ahead. They gladly explain, give examples, tell stories and give their people the opportunity to engage with the process, to understand the facts behind it, the reasons why change is needed and what the future ideally will look like.

As people we tend to resist changes decided over our heads. Feeling involved and listened to, makes it easier for us to accept change, whether we can influence them or not, and motivates us to make a real effort in making them happen.


Connecting with people’s hearts

In his book “Emotional Intelligence”, psychologist and researcher Daniel Goleman, writes: “in a very real sense we have 2 minds, one who thinks and one who feels”.
Great Change Leaders are aware that just addressing the rational argument of change is not enough, people also need to believe it, feel it and want it. Recent findings within the field of neuroscience has proved that human beings are not as rational as we like to think we are, on the contrary we are highly emotional beings with a great talent for “dressing up” our emotional decision so they look like rational ones.

When we understand why a change needs to happen and are emotionally invested in the positive outcome of it, we naturally gravitate towards finding new and better solution to deliver on the purpose and vision of the ideal future we are trying to create.


Enduring the pain

This is perhaps the rarest and most important skill that only the greatest Change Leaders master. This is the phase where most change efforts evaporate into thin air, are stopped, changed or simply just doesn’t happen. Sigmund Freud described the phenomena with his “pleasure and pain principle”; that people by nature seek immediate gratification of needs and do whatever we can to avoid pain.

If given the choice, people mostly choose to stay within their comfort zones, which means doing things the way they always have. In a world in constant change, that is probably not the best idea. 

Change is per definition pain. Or at its best; very uncomfortable. Just ask the caterpillar who became a butterfly. But then also ask her afterwards whether it was worth it. Change pain almost always is. Yet we resist it as crazy.

The greatest Change Leaders understand this and consciously and persistently endure the pain of change, while inspiring the people they lead to do the same.

Change certainly wasn’t painless for one of the greatest Change Leaders I know; former president F.W de Klerk who I had the honor of introducing at a conference in London one year ago. 80 years old, with a steady voice and warm eyes, he told us about a change journey like no other; together with the great Nelson Mandela he transformed an entire nation from a system and culture of apartheid to a system and culture of democracy and equality.

In his speech, he shared 6 change leadership philosophies, one for each phase of the transformational journey they underwent as a country, as a society and as people.  A change story with as many elements of resistance, oblivion, doubt, fear and pain as of visions, beliefs, endurance, will and endless determination.

In my next blog, I will share de Klerk’s 6 phases of leading change, and how relevant I have realized these phases are to any team, organization or business that want to create real and lasting changes too.  

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admits the changes it had to go through to become one.” (Maya Angelou)

Stay tuned.