How To Be A Change Champion

“When people get very good at doing things a certain way, they become surprisingly inept at learning new skills when changing conditions demand it.”
David H. Free

ALL progress is the result of change.

Unfortunately, change isn’t all that easy. As Bruce Springsteen sang back in 1987, “We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately. But we ain’t learnin! We’re the same, sad story. That’s a fact. One step up and two steps back.”

Springsteen was saying change is always challenging and sometimes messy. You make a few changes in your business or in your life, hoping for better results, but you’re going to experience some obstacles and setbacks along the way. And if you’re not careful, you may get discouraged and QUIT, or you may not even try to change anything for the better. You just SETTLE for things the way they are.

By contrast…

=> 1. Change champions don’t QUIT and don’t SETTLE.

The story of Booker T. Washington makes that point. Even though he was born into slavery in 1856, all during his youth, his driving ambition was to get an education … to change his life for the better. But his stepfather tried to stop Booker’s “foolishness,” urging him to settle for a life in the coal mines.

Booker was undeterred. He had heard of a school for black students in Hampton, Virginia, but he had no idea where Hampton was or how far away it was. He was simply determined to get there and get an education … somehow … someway.

Finally, with a little bit of financial assistance from his mother and brother, he began his journey to Hampton. He traveled by stagecoach and he traveled by train, until he ran out of money in Richmond, Virginia. He stayed there a while, earning some money so he could continue his journey. But things weren’t easy. He could have quit, considering the fact he had to sleep under a wooden sidewalk at night and endure a series of other difficulties.

Eventually, Booker made his way to Hampton. He arrived penniless and pitiful looking, having lived and slept in the only set of clothes he owned. Nonetheless, with his persistent passion for change and a better life, he was allowed to work his way through school as a janitor. He worked as a janitor during the day and took classes at night.

As a student, Booker was such an exemplary individual and leader that a few years after graduation he was offered the opportunity to travel to Alabama and start the Tuskegee Institute with a $2,500 grant. It was a wise investment, because ever since that humble beginning in 1881, Tuskegee University has graduated hundreds of thousands of students and now has an endowment of $100 million … all because Booker T. Washington refused to QUIT the change process and refused to SETTLE for less.

The lesson is clear. All progress is the result of change. But as Arnold Bennet puts it, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” You simply have to accept that fact and work your way through them.

That’s exactly what my program on “The Change Payoff: How to Turn Resistance into Resilience and Results” will do for you.

To get you started on your journey to becoming a change champion, you need to…

=> 2. Overcome the fear of the unknown.

The fear of the unknown is normal. After all, when you leave the familiar, when you leave the status quo, when you step outside your comfort zone, you can’t be sure that your new way will be better or even work. So you’re bound to have some of this fear. You’re bound to feel a bit lost and disoriented.

No problem. There is a solution: “Choose growth.”

Take a bit of advice from the greatest psychologist of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow. He said, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”

=> 3. Eliminate the fear of failure.

This fear is also quite common and very normal. After all, when you set out on a new venture, when you try to change something at work or at home, you’re going to experience some failures along the way.

Unfortunately, change losers have the irrational belief that they should be good at something the first few times they try it. And when that doesn’t happen, when they experience some failure, they convince themselves they shouldn’t have bothered to try. They give up at the first signs of difficulty and quit the change process soon after they start.

No problem. There is a solution: “Get a healthier understanding of how change works.”

Realize that the start-to-finish line in the change process is NOT a straight line to success. The line will almost always have some failure bumps along the way. As Susan Jeffers writes, “After serious consideration, I have come to the conclusion that if I haven’t been making any mistakes lately, I must be doing something wrong!” In her book, Jeffers advises us to “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,”

Change champions know this. They know that change requires risk, and risk involves setbacks … so they allow themselves some no-fault, no self-condemnation, trial-and-error learning experiments. They set their goals for change, but they don’t set their goals to be instantly successful in that change.

And if that sounds a little too soft for you, look at all the people you admire in your life or throughout history. You’ll soon learn that every one of them failed, but it wasn’t their failure that made them great. It was their ability to push aside the fear of failure and overcome their failure that made them great.

=> 4. Fight the fear of commitment.

To make change work for you, you must make a commitment to the change … but commitment frightens a lot of people. So they avoid it by using “mush language,” saying such things as, “I’ll think about it … We’ll see … and … I want to keep my options open.” Code words for fear.

I understand. Commitment is scary because it forces you to look at yourself and ask yourself some tough questions. You have to ask, “What do I really REALLY want? And once I know that answer, what am I willing to DO to get those things?”

Unfortunately, change losers get sucked into this fear. Rather than get gut-honest with themselves, rather than decide what they REALLY want, rather than commit themselves to doing what needs to be done, they find it a lot easier to whine about things than do something about those things.

No problem. Commitment-averse people need to realize they don’t have to change everything. They need to realize there is a solution: “Focus on what needs to be changed and keep the rest.”

It’s what change champions do. And it’s what effective leaders do. They make change but stand for values that don’t. As one very successful executive told me, “My job is to help people identify the habits and assumptions that must be changed for the company to prosper. At the same time, I have to help my people identify the values and operations that are so central to our core that if we lose them … we lose ourselves.”

=> 5. Dismiss the fear of disapproval.

Everybody wants to be liked, and everybody wants their efforts to win the approval of others. But when you start to stir things up, when you start to change some things, you can be sure some people won’t like you or what you’re doing. They may make cruel, critical remarks, or they may flood you with their forecasts of doom and gloom. And all that disapproval may stop you from starting or finishing the change process.

Again, no problem. There is a solution: “Take in the disapproval with a grain of salt and an ounce of discernment.”

In other words, some of the criticism is not worth your time and attention. As author and speaker Zig Ziglar says, “Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.”

Other criticisms may come from good-intentioned and well-experienced people. They may know some things about your proposed change that you need to know. Treat their comments with discernment. Take what is useful and throw the rest away.

And finally, in your quest to become a change champion…

=> 6. Discard the fear of success.

It’s a strange fear. Just about everybody wants to be successful … even more successful than they are now … at least that’s what they want on a conscious level.

Deeper down, however, success can be difficult to accept. When you’re successful, you stand out from the crowd, and some people would rather blend in. They don’t want the spotlight focused on them, because that might feel uncomfortable and make others feel jealous.

Other people know if they’re successful, they’ll simply be given more than their fair share of the work. After all, when a manager wants to get something done, he’s much more likely to give the work to a person who has already proven he can and will it get done than a person he’ll have to watch, goad, and push.

Once more, there is a solution: “Relish your success instead of settling for mediocrity.”

Change champions do this all the time. When they look back over their careers and their lives, they know their best memories and best feelings are connected to achievements. They’re not connected to those times they did just enough to get by. So they discard the fear of success and relish the payoff that comes with all their hard work.

All progress is the result of change. So fearing change or fighting change is the wrong way to go. Instead, choose to change. Fight the fears that block your change. And look for the progress that will come your way.

Action:  Which of the five fears listed above gives you the most trouble when it comes to making a change? What are you going to do about it?