I’m so honored to introduce you to my friend Beverly Lewis! She’s written an amazing post on the 5 Stages of Navigating Change that will leave you with a whole new way to approach the inevitable monster named “Change” that we battle. Enjoy!
I want to have a talk with whoever said, “everything you ever wanted is just outside your comfort zone.” Regardless of the wisdom in that, there are times we all long for a respite from the relentless bombardment of new demands, things to learn and fast curves to negotiate. Constantly stepping outside your comfort zone certainly makes you stronger, but some days you want to crawl into the cocoon of the familiar in order to recharge for the next challenge.
You don’t always have to travel very far to find yourself out of your comfort zone. Moving is an exercise in navigating change by anyone’s standards. Our family made a move of only about 100 geographical miles to the Panama City area 14 years ago and the difficulty adjusting caught me by surprise. Some changes are more easily navigated than others.
Living in a military town, I’ve observed that those on active military duty are probably among those who have to be most agile in navigating change. Deployments and new assignments that demand a move every few years push the development of the valuable ability to thrive in the midst of unfamiliar situations. Many remarkable history-makers are military leaders who have proven themselves during wartime – a stressful theater for refining the ability to be decisive and navigate extreme change. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Schwarzkopf… the list is a long and honorable one. Thankfully, the most challenging war most of us wage is with ourselves and our own attitudes and mindsets.
Agility is a leadership quality that is in demand in every sector of our society. Each of us has a story to tell about the changes we’ve dealt with that have shaped who we are. Typically, the hardest circumstances refine us the most. Seasons change, relationships break, business models become outdated, jobs end, responsibilities shift. Learning to keep your balance through it all is a key to happiness.
Much has been written about how to handle change that is personally initiated, like breaking bad habits or battling addiction. Meeting the torpedoes of life; the unexpected challenges over which you have no control is another matter. Who hasn’t found themselves in the midst of a situation you didn’t sign up for? Recognizing the process for navigating change with grace is paramount.
There are five stages in navigating change successfully and coming through victoriously.
It’s interesting to note that many sane, smart leaders have refused to accept facts that threaten their entire careers. During the Great Recession, major companies were annihilated by the inability to acknowledge impending disaster. There are numerous lessons in the failure of corporate giants like Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, Blockbuster and Loehmann’s. It’s a subject of debate whether these debacles affecting the livelihood and well-being of thousands of people could have been averted. Undoubtedly, denial played a role in how the circumstances played out.
The denial syndrome is most sharply defined in how people react to disaster. On board the Titanic, hundreds of guests danced and demanded first-class service while the ship went down. More recently the same type of behavior was noted during the Costa Concordia shipwreck off the coast of Italy.
In the moment following a catastrophe, something happens in our brains that affects the way we think. We behave differently, often irrationally. Consider those who had the terrible misfortune to be in the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, who dithered at their desks, calling relatives, turning off computers and pondering which mementos to rescue from their desks as the inferno raged.
All of these are illustrations of the first response to change – denial. It is one of the greatest obstacles to effective action.
The second stage of responding to change is one in which emotions reign. Anger can be manifested through accusation, frustration and blame. Though none of these are productive, it’s important to recognize the need to vent emotion. Sometimes the anger directed at oneself is the most dangerous as you can beat yourself up to the point you lose your self-confidence. If you don’t recognize the anger as one of the stages of adapting to change, there’s the risk of a downward spiral through regret to despondency. Not a happy place to live.
The third stage is the place of decision-making. Weighing options, strategizing and making a plan – even if it doesn’t seem like the best plan – spells progress. Stress causes tunnel-vision, so learning to consider all available choices is a valuable skill. The strongest leaders are credited with the ability to make quick decisions under pressure. With repeated opportunities to think on our feet, we learn to respond with confidence. Mistakes will be made, but as Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
This stage finds you moving. Overwhelmed people stop. Motivation to get going indicates great progress into the fourth stage of navigating change effectively. A word of caution is due here. Hanging onto the old while moving into the new is not uncommon but highly ineffective. Imagine if you try to keep one foot on the ground and one foot on a jet that’s preparing to take off. You have to choose – are you staying or going? If it takes off while you’re undecided, you’re going to suffer some serious pain. At this stage, you may not be happy about what’s happening, but acceptance is not far off once you’re in motion.
The fifth stage positions you in a place of strength. Acceptance opens your mind to new possibilities as you once again are able to find joy in the journey. You can perceive necessary course adjustments.
All of us undergo a five-stage process when we find ourselves facing change: denial, anger, deliberation, action and acceptance. A key to success and happiness is learning to acknowledge the process, make the best of detours and turn adversity into advantage. The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.- William A. Ward
Beverly Lewis is an Executive Trainer, Speaker and Business Consultant. As a creative and resourceful business growth expert, she is passionate about building strong, happy teams. She specializes in relationship marketing and has provided workshops and seminars on success & leadership for over 25 years. She is the CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) of BeverlySpeaks.com. Beverly lives in Florida with her husband of 36 years and loves to spend time with her family, make music, write and read.
Want more of Beverly? Join us, along with Karen White, at our women’s weekend retreat in January 2015! Find Yourself By the Sea