The Challenges and Rewards of Change


In my two last blogs, I wrote about change management and added my expert opinion about starting with oneself and when to apply complexity thinking. Missing from those two blogs, and is often missing in other literature, is a discussion about how challenging change can be. Over the decades I have learned that change is inevitable, continuous, and can seem ambiguous. To help bring clarity and ease, this blog explores change and transition.

As described by the author William Bridges, change is something that you can mark on a calendar—for example, the day you met your life partner, started a new job, or a loved one died. What many people don’t realize is that change can trigger an emotional transition, which is experienced in our head, heart, and gut. It’s the transition that often makes us feel emotional, brings on feelings of vulnerability, and can be hard to comprehend. Successful change actually lies on our ability to get through the transition.

Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about.
— William Bridges

Bridges discussed his theories of change and transitions in his book, Managing Transitions; Making the Most of Change, which was part of my graduate studies at Royal Roads University. I also had the privilege of co-authoring the book, Flux and developing its related training, based off of Bridges' theories. My learning, writing, and curriculum development focused on how the emotional transition that comes from change can be both challenging and rewarding, and everything inbetween. In both books— Managing Transitions and Flux —the three-phase process and strategies for getting through emotional transition were revealed. These phases include: (1) ending, losing, and letting go; (2) the neutral zone, and; (3) the new beginning. The neutral zone (which often doesn’t feel neutral at all) is where we can experience our biggest ah-ha’s, tap into our creativity, foster emotional intelligence, and be expansive. However, the neutral zone can also present struggles, feelings of vulnerability, fear, and uncertainty.

Research professor and author, Brene Brown discussed vulnerability in her TedTalk, which I have watched countless times and highly recommend to others. In Brown’s TedTalk, she reminds us to embrace vulnerability, “lean into the discomfort” and also into the joy. Brown stated that we are hard-wired for struggle as children and we should remember this as adults. From Bridges’ description of the neutral zone, one could assume that that is the zone in which Brown cautions our urge to “make the uncertain, certain”. Brown provided excellent reminders that can be applied to managing change, especially while one is in the neutral zone.

Along with what I’ve learned and applied from Bridges’ work and Brown’s TedTalk, I also put to practice the disciplines of Peter Senge, a systems thinker and author. Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, focused on shared vision, mental models, personal mastery, team learning, and systems thinking—all of which are helpful when managing change and transition. Each of these disciplines could be there own blog, so for the purpose of brevity, I will just encourage readers to get a copy of his book and dive in. My copy of The Fifth Discipline has become my go-to for clarity and guidance so much that it’s beginning to look like a well used bible.

Specifically related to change, Senge claimed that “leadership is always about change” and that “change naturally induces fear in all of us: fear of the unknown, of failure, of not being needed in a new order of things”. Senge reminds us about the importance of not getting stuck in the change itself, but to also focus on what can be conserved; a similar concept that is also echoed in Managing Transitions and Flux. Additionally, Senge shared the importance of shifting deep-seated mental models—assumptions, beliefs, mind-sets, etc—that can get in our way of successful change; another good reminder as we manage change and transition.

How about wrapping up this blog by listening to this song on transition? While playing the song, close your eyes and imagine yourself floating through your transitions. The song speaks to the importance and beauty that comes from change and, more importantly, transition. After all, it’s really about our personal transformation that we gain from change. As the song reveals, it’s while we move through the neutral zone, “we may just learn how to fly”.

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