December 30, 2015

Nearly all change is for the better. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part when something or someone changes, the new version is almost always better than the original. If it wasn’t it probably wouldn’t have changed at all. 

If being able to take our phones wherever we go wasn’t better than being tethered to a wall, we would still have land lines and telephone booths. If having the world’s knowledge bound in encyclopedias and sitting on bookshelves made more sense than a software system that searches the World Wide Web for information, than Britannica’s stock would be trading at nearly $800 per share instead of Google’s. The unpredictable nature of change will always cause some level of anxiety, but once that change is complete, rarely do we consider reverting back. It’s called progress.

That’s why as leaders - of a group, a team, an organization, a movement, or even a country - you shouldn’t worry about change. What you need to focus on is the changing, that awkward, uncomfortable, difficult transition between what is and what will or can be.

Think about what life was like as a teenager. We all could dig up pictures of ourselves as infants or young children and be proud to show them off to anyone knowing exactly what their reaction will be. “What a cute baby you were.” They aren’t lying, as babies and toddlers we are cute. All of us. Then, something happens. The changing occurs. We mutate from adorable children (physically, emotionally, and socially) into some hideous sort of freak show. Our bodies stretch out disproportionally, acne and blemishes cover our skin, our voice and language turn into something unrecognizable and unintelligible, and the adults that cared and provided for us just a few years earlier are now the dumbest people on the planet and the cause of our terminal embarrassment, We look and act as ugly as we feel.

Eventually, we are changed. We find ourselves at 20 feeling nothing like we did when we were 13 or 14, and more importantly, we would never go back. The change turned out to be a pretty good thing for us (physically, emotionally, and socially). It was just the getting there - the changing - that was rough.

That is true for all things. You can see it in the world today as the current crop of middle-agers go through the changing that every generation before them did and every generation after them will. They fear a world that is no longer familiar to them and are anxious about the evolution taking place. They claim to not recognize the countries where they grew up, the institutions they relied upon, the values they believed in, or the people they identified with. Everything is changing and they fear the outcome will be for the worse. 

Of course it won’t be. It will be for the better. It always is.

The lesson here is that you can bring about change much faster if you are sensitive to the changing. Telling a teenager he or she will be beautiful is not all that helpful when they look in a mirror and see a face only a mother could love. No different than telling someone whose faith is challenged by same-sex marriage to just get over it. Or telling a community that feels like police are targeting them to quit overreacting. Or telling the citizens of a nation who are concerned about terrorist attacks that they are 300 times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident. Their fears and frustrations are real to them and your lack of empathy and understanding of that reality will only make matters worse.

Change isn’t hard for people. Changing is.