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Does uncertainty drive change?
Clare Ansberry’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Worst Moment to Take a Risk?,” provides some valuable insight about change. And we couldn’t agree more with the fact that she quotes both the late William Bridges and his widow Susan in the piece about the importance of change in spite of uncertainty:
“At uncertain times, why take a risk? When unmoored by illness, loss, or divorce, people tend to avoid further disruptions and cling to what anchors them—from relationships to routines to places,” she writes. “It is ‘especially hard to let go when you don’t know what is going to come next,’ the late William Bridges, an author and consultant, wrote in his book The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments. Yet taking a risk is often what people need to move forward.
“For some, uncertainty itself becomes a motivator. ‘If I’m going to do what I want to do, I better do it now,’ says Susan Bridges,” who was married to Mr. Bridges and is president of the consulting firm and longtime Linkage partner William Bridges & Associates, which helps people and organizations deal with change.
“Eleven years ago, Ms. Bridges was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At that moment, what had been abstract and remote—her own mortality—suddenly became real. Since that time, she says, she has been more daring…Though she is in complete remission, the uncertainty never leaves. ‘There’s something about the imminence of life being over that can be freeing,’ says Ms. Bridges.”
The interesting leadership lesson in this article is that the fear of the unknown can actually be turned into a motivator. This is the challenge individuals and leaders (actually all humans) face all the time—overcoming the fear of the unknown.
And this is directly relevant to the work leaders do with change and transition. Managers are focused on the day-to-day operations of an organization; however leaders are focused on the future; what’s possible, what could be? This is the work of leaders, and the best leaders understand that, as Marcus Buckingham states in his book The One Thing, “the chief responsibility of a leader is to rally people to a better future.” They inherently focus on the unknown, the future.
So, if people are inherently against or have a fear of the unknown, and all they are hearing from their leaders is what lies ahead, the natural reaction will be to focus on what they potentially might be losing. Whether real or perceived…permanent or temporary…tangible or intangible…the loss is there. This is where the biggest challenge lies for leaders trying to get commitment from the organization to a change initiative. The best leaders get people to view change as an opportunity rather than a loss. The best leaders help their people get excited about the possibilities ahead of them. The best leaders know how to create a “changeable culture.”
Are you one of those leaders?
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