The Key to Leading Change? Become Comfortable With Discomfort.
These moments can be exciting, inspiring and often terrifying. Then comes the daunting task of responding to that realization that you or something or both have to change: You're forced into taking action -- to shift from what you already know (and have become comfortable with) to venturing into the unknown.
This is particularly challenging in a business situation where the risks of taking no action could be devastating to a project. It could be that a change is needed in a marketing strategy or that a service issue needs to be addressed.
When you at first try to embark on the change, it feels very uncomfortable and might even hurt. Some people don’t like the feeling and give up. This is like the person who goes to the gym to works out, stretches dormant muscles, wakes up sore the next day and quits exercising.
Others, who are committed to discovering and using their full abilities and those of their team, push through the early pain and adapt to being uncomfortable. These leaders eventually get stronger. They become what I describe as “comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Based on my own experience, I've identified four distinct stages that a person goes through when dealing with change. By understanding them, you can increase the likelihood that navigating change will work for you.
When challenged, you realize that there's no such thing as maintaining the status quo. You’re not running in place. You’re sliding backward but don’t know why. You know that something is just not right but have no idea what it is. You realize that change is needed but the early confusion is clouding your thinking.
After you recognize that change is needed, you're now confronted with the challenge of determining what needs to change. You're lost in the woods without a compass and have no sense of the direction to go. But you do know that you can’t stay where you are. You still feel uncomfortable yet you're starting to adapt to being in the challenging new circumstances.
You acquire a good idea about what needs to be done, know the first step to take but are unsure about subsequent ones. It’s like driving at night on a foggy highway: You can see only the part of the road from the front of the car to the end of the light cast by the headlights.
While you must proceed cautiously, you continue on the trip that way until your visibility (the vision of what you want to achieve) becomes clearer. You are starting to move toward acceptance of what's happening and considering what your next actions be.
You're still anxious but have learned how to focus your anxiety and energy on taking action. Your battle cry becomes “I get it and I can do it.” You know what to do and how. You have a plan for yourself, and if you are a leader, for your team.
At this point, you can manage yourself and lead your team through the newness of the situation and see any mistakes as opportunities to improve and make even more progress.
You've learned to push through the process and accept being uncomfortable. You've even become proficient in your new role, operating at a higher level, creating a new and improved status quo.
When there is a need to change, confusion and chaos can ensue. The effective leader knows how to get the entire team on board and embrace the change so that the opportunities hidden within can be identified and capitalized upon.
Related: How to Lead Your Team Through Change
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