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Leaders have the responsibility to make positive change happen.


by Ilaria Forte and Dr. Peter Everts

Change is resisted because it can demolish our certainties and turns the world as we know it upside down. 

Is there a fundamental, basic or principle resistance to change? Or do we have to look at this in a more subtle way? The premise here is that there is no resistance to change, only to certain changes, where the unknown often causes fear. Fear can easily  emerge from a lack of knowledge and understanding. For example knowledge about what is going to happen in the future or where this road is leading to. If people are mainly focussed on the negative outcomes of change or negative stories about the future they will be reluctant, at the least, to participate in any initiative that may invoke or facilitate this change. As it is with a very big part of human behaviour a cost-benefit analysis, or one that has been made in the past and is heavily reinforced, determines which action will follow.  In this light it is very understandable that benefits gained by actions we are accustomed to such as certainties, status, power, influence, prestige and material rewards will tend to let us behave as we’re used to. Change is then seen as a possible threat to our achievements. This will be interpreted differently when change incorporates the promise of benefits that weigh up to the loss of previous gained achievements. All and all there’s nothing new here for anyone who understands a little bit of human behaviour. The important question that lies underneath is how today’s leaders and the next generation of leaders can shine light on the new benefits when we fundamentally change the way in which we work, organize, live, communicate, make profit and divide wealth in order to save our planet. In other words: How do organizations and companies develop the next generation of conscious and authentic leaders to allow change to unfold instead of resisting to it?

First of all we believe that change is inevitable; it’s going to happen anyway. There is a lot of change all around us. Things, thoughts and situations are changing. Our body is changing, our economy is changing, and our political system is changing. We have to realize that change is the only constant in life as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said centuries ago. In trying to keep things the way they are, we are just ignoring the essence of life itself. We not only move, we are movement ourselves. So, if the need to change is inherent in our nature, why is change often perceived as a major threat? Why do we see the disruptive effect of change instead of the creative effect of change? In order to make positive change happen, leaders have to embrace change as a way of being. This means above all learn to see the big picture with new eyes, overcome fears and barriers, search for opportunities and see interconnections, move gently forward. Many leaders today focus on analysing details, evaluating risks and controlling initiatives that might go against the status quo.

There are two ways of dealing with change. Either one reacts to change that he’s confronted with or one tries to allow the change to happen. Bearing this in mind we need leaders that are willing and able to take on an active attitude and fluid role towards change. This is, as stated above, far more easily done when the benefits or possible outcomes of the specific change are clear or inspiring, rather than confusing and destructive. But how do we anticipate to the unknown? We are challenged to risk losing what we harbour not knowing what will come instead. This cost-benefit analysis will most certainly have a predictable outcome. Unless we don’t mind losing what we’ve gained that much, or know for certain that we are going to loose this anyway. In both these cases we might choose for the unknown. But is it all this simple? What are the implications towards the personality or characteristics of the individual leader? What do we implicitly demand from these people? And what are they facing themselves in terms of personal challenge? 

If coping with the challenge of leading in an era of inevitable change incorporates certain specific personality traits as boundary condition, the leader as well as others have to be aware of their presence or absence. This brings us to the following question:

How can awareness and self-awareness help these new leaders of tomorrow to fully embrace change and make positive change happen?  

Personality traits necessary to play a meaningful role as leader here, cannot be related to the content of the change, simply because we don’t yet know how things will turn out. So these traits will have to relate to change as such or to coping with the unknown. This automatically leads us to characteristics as courage, positive thinking, inspiring to others, coping with failure, flexibility, playfulness, passionate and imaginative.  

Self-awareness of these traits, in our opinion, is highly regarded as a precondition and an essential step toward developing leadership skills.  The risk of overestimating or underestimating oneself in this respect might bring many others in unwanted situations regarding the process of change. A successful leader knows who he or she is, knows how to inspire others, is radical alive (fully awake, conscious and present), and also has the courage to pull through in difficult times.

New leaders are of a different kind. But now we face the wheel inside the wheel: we need brave, courageous and inspiring people to foster the profile of new leaders. The question here is: who is in?