Recently, I returned from a trip to Austria and contemplated the challenges and difficulties of change. Change comes in so many different forms, expected versus unexpected, designed versus inflicted, self-created versus brought on by someone else, or accidental versus planned. While we are constantly told to embrace change, we all on a certain level find reasons to resist it. As I was thinking about this more, I remembered a “cornerstone”-story from my family:
In 1943 my grandfather died in Stalingrad, which was on the Eastern Front in the Second World War. He was a prisoner of war for more than 3 years. Unbeknown to my family, he was writing a diary addressed to his son, my father, who he has only seen once, when my father was a 3 months old boy. Fast forward to 1985, after an agreement between Austria and the former Soviet Union, prisoner-belongings were exchanged. My family received the diary of my grandfather. Needless to say, this was extremely emotional for my father. The diary was full of all kinds of advice form a father to his son - but what was really striking to me was how you could see how my grandfather’s opinion changed while being in prison for all those years - from being a staunch supporter of the war to being completely against it.
I realized then and see it again and again now, how difficult it is to change a mind, a process or deal with change in general. It took the senselessness of war and an incredible amount of suffering for my grandfather to change his mind. If it took a war to do that, we all are well-advised to more regularly consider how difficult it is to change if you don’t have a dramatic event or catalyst driving it. Therefore, as leaders, we all have a responsibility to encourage our teams to not underestimate the difficulties of change.
Over the years, I have met several highly effective leaders, who not only understood the implications of change but also did not make the mistake to sugarcoat it or “wish” it way. They deal with it in an authentic, transparent and can-do manner. In addition, I have observed that strong leaders are willing to deal with the many pockets of resistance to change, which is hard, it makes people uncomfortable and it requires flexibility. These leaders are willing to take the problem head-on versus just talking about it. They are willing to invest their time and effort to nudge their teams to increase their comfort with change. They don’t fall into the victim trap but rafter focus on finding a path forward.
But great leaders also see in change the untapped opportunities and the “gift” it can represent. They foster an open mind and are willing to listen and understand other perspectives. Change, for them, is a way to evolve, grow and create resilience. They encourage their teams to self-create change on a regular basis, which fosters resilience and preparation when they encounter major changes and challenges.
As I think about the incredible hard times my grandfather has faced during the war and the transformation he went through during all those years in prison, I do wonder if we check-in with ourselves from time to time on how flexible or not we actually are in dealing with change or changing our mind on something we strongly believe in. I read somewhere that “what we believe is right today may be proven wrong tomorrow”. Let’s keep this in “mind” in our continuously changing and more complex world.