How many of you would like to change your results in 2019? And yet, how many of you plan on doing the same things as you did in 2018? You might even be saying, “yeah, but I’ll do them better, or more often, or with greater effort”. And yet, the odds of having different results by doing the same things you did before – regardless of the effort – are practically zero. Didn’t Albert Einstein point out that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity? What makes the difference then, in getting different results? And how does someone go from worst to first in any category? The answer is simple, and yet, very difficult. Change. But it’s not just change for change’s sake. The questions to be answered are, “What do I change?” and “how do I change?” If you’re a leader in an organization, whether you lead the entire organization or you lead a team, the change must start with you.
A leader that I was fond of studying used to say, “When a leader gets better, everyone wins”. And he was right. As leaders we must embrace change. But why is embracing change so difficult at times? Because all change is personal. If the “person” doesn’t embrace change, the “professional” has no hope of making the change necessary to make a difference. Further, change is not only personal, it’s difficult. That’s because the registration of change in the brain is the same as what neuroscientists call the “Slow Path” of pain. Yes, change registers as pain. If you’d like a life-size picture of this, take a morning routine like putting on a shirt or blouse, or a pair of pants, and stop yourself before you begin. Switch arms or legs, as the case may be, and then complete the task. In other words, if you always put your shirt on by inserting the left arm first, stop yourself and put the right arm in first. You’ll end up saying to yourself, “Yikes! That was painful”. Most of you won’t succeed, and you’ll go back to the old way of doing things….just like in the organization or team in which you’d like to change results. Why is change so painful? Because our brains love routine. Routines are those seemingly auto-behaviors or auto-responses where we don’t even need to think. This is how our brains conserve energy. Since our brains – which represent less than 2% of our body mass – consume approximately 20% of the energy that our entire bodies consume each day, each time we can act without thinking we conserve energy for the things that we need it for the most. That is, until we realize that what we’ve been doing with little thought isn’t really working at all for us.
If you want to embrace change in order to change your results, begin a new mindset for change in yourself before trying to prepare the organization for change. Look for ways to change the “routine”. Changing which leg you put into your pants first is a way to begin the process. Perhaps you drive the same way to work every day. Find a new way, even if it takes slightly longer, and drive a different way once or twice a week. If you want to know what to change, ask those who know you best (not necessarily those who like you best) in your operating role. The question can be as simple as “What do I need to change, in order that my team may win?” (More on this process in an upcoming blog.) The research shows that we are poor at self-reporting. That is, we don’t see ourselves as others see us, but rather as we’d like to see ourselves. And this becomes the impediment to making the changes necessary for our team to win. If your first question relative to improving your outcomes is “who on my team needs to change?” then you will have answered the wrong question every time. I’m not saying that someone on your team doesn’t need to change, or even leave. I once worked for a guy who would say, “Sometimes, in order to change people, you’ve got to change people”. That could be entirely true. But if change doesn’t begin with you, you’ll never make change safe for the organization, and your team will never get to see change role-modeled.
Once you’ve embraced your own need for change, you can prepare the organization for change. Look for the routines and break them up. As an example, if you notice that your folks come into your weekly staff meeting and sit in the same place every time, or that people sit next to the same people each time, then force everyone to get up and change places before the meeting begins. You’ll get a lot of grousing, at first, but stay with it. When big changes are necessary, the psychological distance between daily activity of change and big change is much smaller than the psychological distance between comfortable routine and big change; and therefore, not as “painful”.