If you want to lead change – personal, organizational or societal – you have to intimately know how change works. This includes experiential clarity in knowing how to overcome – and help overcome – resistance towards change. It also includes knowing the ever so subtle, almost unnoticeable shifts in your own inner experience when facing a challenge to change a personal reality in the face of a conscious or unconscious resistance. This is especially true if the change you want to induce is not just incremental change, i.e. getting better at something, but a real transformational shift, or even a paradigm shift, personal or otherwise.
This is what Bill O’Brien or Otto Scharmer talk about, when they tell us how much the `inner place of an intervener´ matters to the success of an intervention.
Leading self comes before leading others. Let us illuminate that ‘blind spot of leadership’ and take a closer look at what happens in our own spaces first. How do you deal with your own personal change? How do you overcome your own resistances when they are well hidden from your own insight and logic? How much do you know your own inner quiet place where you examine your own assumptions, what you are unconsciously knowing (e.g. “I am not good enough”) and can you unlearn what you know? What you are ignoring (“I can’t bear feeling that”)? Are you aware of what it is you are secretly protecting? What encountered knowns and unknowns do you leave unexamined? With which consequences?
The answer to these questions lead to the areas, where leaders of change need to develop a kind of mastery that is similar to that of martial arts: In dealing with the inconspicuous, lightning fast impulses, and in handling most uncomfortable pushback, shadow impulses and resistance.
We tend to think that facing change and leading change are about the bold moves, that paradigm shifts are spectacular, that holding unknowns or paradoxes is something very noticeable and in your face. This is not the case – the trick lies in the subtle, in the almost undetectable vibrational shifts and minute impulses that are going on in the background of your own mind, without you noticing them consciously.
There is this old Zen joke, that has been around, about the old fish that meets to young fish. While passing he friendly asks: hey guys, how is the water today? After he is gone, they turn to each other and ask: what water??
Here, the unconscious is exactly what the word says: what is least conscious because it is most usual, most familiar, most every day. This is why people don’t easily change even their most unwanted realities: “Every day” is what we call a reality that is constructed around homeostatic systems with adaptive ‘set points’ around money, happiness, confidence, relationships, success, etc. What are your assumptions around this that hold you, like invisible rubber bands, in your old reality? Noticed any patterns lately?
What you might notice if you are being challenged to change even a minor set point or a status quo in these areas are things like; becoming tired, embarrassed, distracted, ill, angry, intellectual, nice, pleasing, aggressive. Now become quiet and listen in, feel in: what happened inside, in your ‘inner place’ just before the avoidance mechanism?
Becoming good at identifying and handling these impulses needs a different set of skills and capacities. It needs noticing where your attention goes in automatic and where it is stuck. It needs awareness of the mechanisms that you use to escape from the ‘inside of a feeling’ that you protect yourself or others from. It needs the willingness to feel something that is deeply uncomfortable, oftentimes painful. It needs the will power to stay and feel it through. These minute moves are silent, not loud; you need to catch frequencies, not words and mental concepts; you need to move at the speed of emotion, not slow changing matter. Draw faster than your shadow. And, just like in martial arts, the resistance and impulses can be used to our advantage: there is usually a treasure to be found at the bottom of each illusive impulse. Follow that resistance, use its tension and its origin for your own goal of becoming whole again and greater awareness, and come out shiny at the other end.
You learn to stay some more and make this new, unchartered unfamiliar territory your place. You start playing with new possibilities you didn’t know were possible before. The choice field widens, and welcome to prototyping. You can start leading and teaching the martial arts of change. New realities emerge from the subtle first, and the rewards are priceless.
Are you ready to play?
Photos: Cloud in a room. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.