As social change leaders, we are in the business of change. So, I find it interesting that even those of us who are at the forefront of the work can be resistant to the very changes we’re trying to make!
Transition can be quite challenging — wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could achieve comfort through equilibrium? I don’t imagine that the pace of change will slow down anytime soon however, and believe that now more than ever we’re going to need skills that allow us to lead through turbulence. These are skills that weren’t necessarily needed 25 years ago, but are essential today.
As a child, I was often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as though I had only one choice to make. Today, ninety-one percent of Millennials expect to stay in their job for less than three years, and may have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime. This will have a significant impact on our organizations and social movements, and will require us to rethink our notions of what it takes to lead effectively.
Not so long ago, organizations in the nonprofit and social change sector were often expected to have a 10-year plan, and to stick to it. Today it’s rare that organizations make plans for longer than three years. Leaders need to be able to create strong visions, develop the structures and processes that allow those visions to manifest, and then let the “what” and “how” emerge over time. This is substantially different from the old “predict and control the future” models of traditional strategic planning. And for those of us who like to predict and control, this can be quite challenging.
When I first took my role as President here at Rockwood, I thought that we would spend about a year in transition, after which we’d hit some magical moment of homeostasis and hum along for awhile. Seven years later, I’m still waiting for that moment, and have come to realize that transition is the work. I used to think it was an artifact of the work, but have come to understand that leading through times of transition is actually our work. Click to tweet.
A colleague recently told me that “habituation is death.” I think he’s right. When we become attached as individual leaders, organizations, or movements to our habits, our customs, and our traditions to the point where we become inflexible and resist innovation, that’s the point when we move toward death.
Today, as I lead through change and transition, I find that I need a strong toolbox to help me release my attachment to “sameness” or predictability. I do my best to practice my own version of what Rockwood teaches: clarity of purpose, a strong and flexible vision, the ability to pivot, a willingness to be wrong, and curiosity about what is possible. There are some who might say that these aren’t tools, but I’ve found that without them, I’m not a very effective leader.
I’d like to start a conversation with you: What are the tools you’re using that allow you, your organization, or your movement to effectively lead through times of deep change and transition? What’s working? What ideas do we need to cross-pollinate?
Please share your ideas and experiences with me in the comments, or you can email me at akaya AT rockwoodleadership DOT org.
From my heart to yours.
Image credit: Monarch in Chrysalis via Wikimedia Commons