Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Change, change

Why can't things just stay the same? I shouted angrily at the TV news anchor and threw a pillow at the screen and clicked it off with a snort. Suddenly a hissing noise arose from the corner of the room and a white, shimmering mist filled the air. I stood in shock as a tall, wrinkled old man emerged. He was my distant uncle, a grizzled fellow with a long flowing white beard and was saintly dressed from head to toe in white. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he flashed a gap-toothed grin. “Hi, I can take you to a place where people don't have to deal with change and things stay the same all the time.”

Before I could say a word, uncle asked me to simulate a graveyard and look at the polished gravestones stretched far out to the horizon. He said, “Here’s a place where things stay the same and people don't have to deal with change. Life is change,” the aged butch said with a chuckle as he leapt to the top of a headstone. “It's one of nature's mighty laws.” Eons ago, I had this conversation with this old chum.

After I started thinking about change I thought the single biggest change management failure of the 20th century was the old Soviet Union. With highly centralized planning, the politburo tried to tightly control the lives of an entire block of nations. There were to be few surprises and activities that weren't in the official plan. Bureaucratic organizations often try to do the same thing. So do many static, low growth individuals. We need to be on guard against our own rigid thinking and hardening of the attitudes.

The faster the world changes around us, the further behind we fall by just standing still. If the rate of external change exceeds our rate of internal growth, just as the day follows night, we will surely be changed. To the change-blind with stunted growth, it will happen suddenly and seemingly out of the blue.

Change forces choices. If we’re on the grow, we’re embracing many changes and finding the positive in them. It's all in where we chose to put our focus. Even change that hits us in the side of the head as a major crisis can be full of growth opportunities — if we choose to look for them.

We don't always get to choose the changes that come into our lives. But we do get to choose how to respond. Crisis can be a danger that weakens or destroys us. Or crisis can be a growth opportunity. The choice is ours. Which ever we chose — we're right about that crisis. We make it our reality.

Change is life. Successfully dealing with change means choosing to continuously grow and develop. Failing to grow is failing to live. Life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of ourselves.

Accepting responsibility for choices starts with understanding where our choices lie. There is a long list of things we can't control, but may have a major impact on us as individuals or as clusters. These include economic and political trends, technological changes, shifts in consumer preferences and market trends, as well as catastrophes wrought by human beings (war, terrorism and etc) and so-called Acts of God, such as earthquakes.

The best approach to dealing with things that cannot be changed is to accept them. When the doo-doo starts to pile deep, we ought not just sit there and complain; we ought to grab a shovel. We may not choose what happens to us, but we do choose how to respond – or not.

Choosing to make changes is hard. It's so much easier to blame everyone else for our problems and to use this as an excuse for doing nothing. We must not give away our power to choose. In his bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck writes, “Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But this means we then give away our power to that entity, be it fate or society or the government or the corporation or our spouse. It is for this reason that Erich Fromm so aptly titled his study of Nazism and authoritarianism, Escape from Freedom. In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions and even billions daily attempt to escape from freedom.”

It takes real courage to accept full responsibility for our choices – especially for our attitude and outlook. This is the beginning and ultimately most difficult act of leadership.

We must engage ourselves into lively debates about those things over which we have the power to act. We can easily classify them as belonging to three categories: No Control; Direct Control; and Influence. It's rarely black and white. For example, we often underestimate the influence we might have in our functions – or in the world at large. Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

We're either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no neutral ground. Strong folks make the choice to be part of the solution and get on with it – no matter how small their ripples of change may be. (