A Change Story

We’ve all heard about how hard it is to lead change. We’ve heard that 80% of change initiatives fail. And we’ve heard the biggest barrier to change is the people affected by it.

Not surprisingly, a lot of words have been dedicated to getting people engaged in change. And one way to do that is to tell a good story.

Story is Primal

We know a good story as easily as we can spot a bad one. Don’t believe me? Try this:

Patrick throws the papers in his hand on the leather desk, “Are you kidding me with this garbage?”

 Bill doesn’t look at the papers scattered on the desk. He doesn’t have to. He wrote them. Patrick sets one elbow on the desk, rests his head on his hand and picks through the papers on his desk with the other.

 “You’re gonna have to do this again,” Patrick says.

 Bill nods. His hand creeps slowly toward his jacket pocket.

 “And this time, don’t send it through my assistant, bring it straight to me.”

 Bill can feel the cotton of his suit as his hand picks up pace. It darts into his inside pocket and grabs hold of three sheets of paper. He pulls them out and, tentatively, sets them on Patrick’s desk.

 “What’s this?” Patrick sets his index finger on the papers and pulls them toward him. He reads without lifting the papers off his desk. A minute later he huffs to himself, looks at Bill then back at the paper.

 Bill can feel the carved wood as he relaxes into the back of the chair. He wasn’t sure which version to submit, but he won’t make that mistake again. He rises slightly, “If there’s nothing else, sir.”

 Patrick’s words are barely audible as Bill leaves the room, almost like he doesn’t want Bill to hear them. “Good job.”

 It’s because his back’s facing his boss Bill feels it’s safe to smile.

The Hero’s Journey is the Change Journey

See my point? That story doesn’t work because there’s no second act. Or as Brené Brown’s research shows, there’s no “messy middle”. Bill goes from problem straight to solution with no trials and tribulations in between. And that’s the same in the real world – especially when you’re leading change in your organization.

Making sense? The challenge of change is showing people that it’s very different from what came before. It needs to hold a promise that the problems of the past will not only be dealt with, but vanquished.

A Crucible of Change

And making sure it’s the best idea is what makes the second act stage difficult. That’s because it means having difficult conversations. And yes that can mean passionate debate – what some might call conflict.

And just like in stories you’ll find allies, you’ll meet opposition, you and your idea will be tested. And just like in a good story, your idea will be forged in the crucible. And come out the other side better for it.

That’s not a journey for everyone.

But it can be.

Leading Change, Leading Honestly

In Rising Strong Brené Brown suggests three things we need to thrive in the second act. For her, it’s about The Reckoning (getting curious about how your emotions connect with the way you think and behave); The Rumble (getting honest about the stories you tell yourself about your change); and The Revolution (your willingness to write a new story).

Maybe it’s even simpler. Here are three tips on how to do it:

  • First be honest to ourselves about ourselves
  • Then be honest about what we want to do and what’s standing in our way
  • Lastly, be honest with others about what we’re seeing

Because if we can do that, then maybe other people will see our story. And then they may want to help us achieve it.

Author: Joe Britto

Joe is a psychological coach, writer, interactive consultant and founder of
Innate Leaders. He works with a wide range of leaders from organizations including non-profits as well as the public and private sectors. His work focuses on creating long term sustainable change by developing a leadership mindset throughout an organization.

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