Leadership : Resistance to Change means Resistance to learning
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Albert Einstein
Dr Arky Ciancutti is CEO of Learning Center. He is often quoted in the business sections of many business papers and journals. He regulalry appears on National and Public Radio, on topics ranging from teamwork in the workplace to today's economic climate, to international trust and mistrust. He is the author of Built on Trust.
A boat sails out to sea, reaches the horizon, and never returns. Our minds become crowded with assumptions. The "truth" boils down to a few perfectly clear observations: this boat reached the horizon, an obvious straight line, fell out of sight and never returned. Beset with loss and fear, the seaside fishing village begins to draw the "only" logical conclusion: the boat fell off the edge of the world.
This conclusion, widely held for centuries, produced limiting effects: people fished only within sight of the shore. This made perfect sense. It mitigated danger and reduced loss. Soon, people forgot the original incident, as the belief in a flat world became habit.
Inflexible Processes and Reduced Innovation
Understanding inflexibility is a key to preparing people for spontaneous learning, innovation and empowerment. The same processes that resulted in a flat world for whole societies affect smaller teams and individuals today. Learning requires the ability to perceive a diversity of viewpoints before concluding. Prejudicial conclusions undermine learning.
Prejudicial conclusions differ from intelligent conclusions largely through emotion. Prejudicial conclusions often invite fear and contain potential loss (the fishing boat contained loved ones; we need the fish to survive). The natural tendency -- a critical survival mechanism -- is to avoid similar dangers. This is perfectly workable, given access to the emotions. Getting burned by a hot stove usually results in avoiding hot stoves. But if the emotions are not understood, we may end up avoiding the whole kitchen; and feel threatened if someone suggests a change in our behavior!
Real examples of limiting beliefs exist in every working team. For example, if reward has accompanied a long-term pyramid mentality, then hidden assumptions and conclusions can cause resistance to empowerment. If a tried and true product orientation has been successful without conscious learning revitalization, then unrecognized conclusions may reduce responsiveness. If individuals feel they've worked hard and have earned their success, this same belief may result in "safe" thinking and impede spontaneous learning. When the conclusions are premature -- forced and assumptive -- the results are usually limiting.
The emotions of change are the strong ones: loss, anger and fear. Each change, each continuous learning opportunity, contains these emotions. One key is to recognize what really is at stake: are we threatened with a loss of value or with a loss of a limitation disguised as value? Can our risk in innovating be analyzed for action or are we paralyzing ourselves with self-fulfilling mind process?
We have within us remarkable capabilities for change and learning, and for helping each other make the process continuous. The approach is simple, but does require some concentration, an exchange of help and a lot of application.
Inflexibility can be converted to new learning through a 5-step process.
Recognize The Belief
The first step in managing change is to recognize inflexibility and its source. To begin, recall an event of heightened emotion or perceived threat, perhaps an event of abrupt disappointment. Remember how you felt and what you concluded. Among these conclusions, select one which has had strong effect in your work life. Note why it might have seemed an appropriate conclusion at the time. But note also whether it has any limiting effects.
Analyze The Effects
List the effects of this conclusion (or this erosion of an existing trust). A good way to analyze present effects is through discussion, particularly with a good listener (as opposed to a good advisor!).
If the larger team is affected, manage the communications rather than let rumor and assumption reign. What might others have concluded, with what effects?
Initiate an open "no consequences" discussion. Listen to understand, not to agree or disagree. Appreciate diversity in views. Help get the information on the table to facilitate consciously selecting options.
Define the Options
Think of specific, discrete examples to create a base of desired effects. To what extent do the desired effects match your list of actual effects?
Your options are to keep, change, or revitalize the conclusion. If the best fit is to revitalize, how can you augment its positive effects? What phrase would best communicate this change to others?
For instance, say in its analysis your group decided that members should be less directive in its management style and listen more. How will people model that? How will it empower others? Solidify your vision of what positive effects will look like once achieved.
Pick a good starting point in your plan, again a specific application that will yield visible effects. How will you get buy-in? How will you share the risk with others? What is your plan for communicating the plan? If your Option involves a group, meet periodically. Give feedback tactfully and receive input gracefully. Most of the learning results from good listening.
Again concentrate on desired effects and adjust as needed. What new learning emerges? What new applications? How can you build? What indicators are you using to monitor progress in the revitalization?
Intelligence is a product of continuous and spontaneous learning. Learning requires diversity of viewpoints and the ability to change viewpoints. The major obstacle to both is inflexibility. In a changing environment, the factors of danger, risk and potential loss can engender assumption and rumor. These are the ingredients to inflexibility and diminished innovation. Inflexibility can be understood and converted through a relatively simple 5 step process. This process is greatly augmented through mutual recognition, honest discussion and an aligned effort.
The result is an environment which, independent of top down manipulation, encourages learning, innovation and empowerment.
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