All progress is the result of change. But not all change is progress.
I hope you got that. NOT ALL CHANGE IS PROGRESS!
Millions of people around the world are blowing up the news channels and social media with their demands for change. And they are willing to destroy the lives, livelihoods, reputations and futures of anyone who disagrees with them.
So how can you live and work effectively in such an environment? How can you move forward without caving in, without being silenced, and without sacrificing your values?
Here are a few things I shared with the Industrial Asset Council at our live meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas last Saturday. (Yes, companies are having live, in-person meetings again and the participants are so eager to learn.)
► 1. Get past your fear of change.
That’s what the man needed to do who waked into a psychiatrist’s office and said, “Doc, every time I see nickels, dimes, and quarters, I have a panic attack! What’s my problem?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” the doctor answered. “You’re just afraid of change.”
Yeah, I know. A sick joke.
But the truth is most people are afraid of change, to some extent. They’re afraid of the new policies coming out of Washington.
They’re afraid their company might change and their job will disappear. They’re afraid their spouse might change and not be the person they married. Whatever.
As a result, some of my coaching clients have said they’ve stopped watching the news … because they’re afraid of what they’re going to hear. Others have said they avoid bringing up certain issues with their friends or family members … because they’re afraid of offending someone.
Get over it! You can’t have a healthy organization or a working democracy if you let fear shut you up. And you can’t have a thriving relationship if too many topics are too controversial to even discuss.
► 2. Acknowledge your feelings … but don’t let them take over.
All change is uncomfortable … whether it’s change being shoved down your throat or change that you welcome. Change always brings a variety of emotions, from anger, worry and anxiety to hope, joy, and relief.
The catch is … you have to be aware of your feelings but not let them control you.
In other words, ignorant, immature people go directly from their feelings to their behavior. They may be angry, for example, and move right into violent, cancel-culture behavior.
Informed, mature people add another step. They acknowledge their feelings, think about the most effective way to deal with those feelings, and then act.
I remember that from my days in retail trade. We used to put a price sticker on every item in the department store and the cashier would manually key in every item at the checkout counter. Of course, we had a fairly high error rate because it was all too easy for the cashier to punch in an incorrect number. And it took a long time to process customers.
Then we started to use the bar code system. The cashiers could simply scan in each item as they moved the item across an instrument that read the bar code and instantly recorded an accurate price.
All of the employees had some degree of fear when it came to this change. Some were fearful enough to fight their bosses or quit their jobs. Others were fearful because the change represented something new that they had to learn, but they gave it some thought. They realized their fear was legitimate, but they also realized that learning a new system would actually increase their professional skills and marketability. They got past their fear and bought into the new approach.
So what’s the point? Acknowledge your feelings in times of change, but don’t let them take over. Don’t let them stop you from implementing the changes you need to make or dealing with the changes you’re forced to accept.
► 3. Keep on learning.
That’s right. Keep on learning, learning, learning … no matter how successful you’ve been in the past. You see … your past success only proves you were right once. It does not guarantee your future success … especially during times of turbulent change.
As I tell the attendees at my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience, when change is constant, learning is critical. Get the facts.
Again, ignorant people don’t get the facts. They act out instead. They follow the advice of poet Carl Sandburg who said, “If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”
Traditionally “successful” people can be just as wrong. They can fall into the trap of thinking they already know everything they need to know. J. Paul Getty, one of the greatest success stories of the last 100 years, knew that. He said, “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”
That’s why smart leaders support lifelong learning in their organizations. They know that the people who are not learning are the ones who are the most fearful of change and they’re the ones who fight the change. As psychologist Dr. Terry Paulson notes, “Frightened people fight.”
People fight what they do not understand. One clergyman had to learn that lesson. As he was walking down a country lane, he saw a young farmer struggling to load hay onto a cart after it had fallen off. “You look hot, my son,” said the cleric. “Why don’t you rest a moment?”
“No thanks,” said the young man. “My father wouldn’t like it.”
“Don’t be silly,” the minister said. “Everyone is entitled to a break. Come and have a drink of water.” Again the young man protested that his father would be upset.
Losing his patience, the clergyman said, “Your father must be a real mean man. Tell me where I can find him and I’ll give him a piece of my mind!”
“Well,” replied the young man, “at the moment he’s under that load of hay.”
The minister was fighting the young man because he didn’t understand the situation. He needed to learn the facts.
And the same goes for you. To make the best of any change situation, there is no substitute for continual learning.