What does it take to change successfully?
Anyone can change the outer form of an organization. We can change the buildings, the organizational structures and our titles, but how do we make that change meaningful?
How do we effectively guide an organization, a team, a family and ourselves through this?
What are the obstacles?
These are questions that every organization must face when it becomes clear that doing something the “old way” is no longer working and the process of growth begins to turn into a process of decay.
Last month I was visiting my friend Christian Burns in California who makes his living as a dancer/teacher and choreographer. He teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and I had the honor to observe a rehearsal that he did as well as a class taught by Summer Lee Rhatigan, one of the founding faculty members of the conservatory.
(Here is Summer)
While I watched the students (most of whom had modern dance training) try to perform the balletic turns and spins that Summer was giving them, I was struck by how incredibly vulnerable dance is. These skilled, trained and talented dancers were attempting to make changes in their technique, meet the expectations of their teacher and not look foolish in front of their peers. (All while wearing leotards, mind you.)
(Okay, not that kind of foolish.)
The students were struggling with the move and the direction that Summer was giving them, which was a kind of falling and recovery move that required them to let go of control for a moment and then gracefully turn the momentum into a type of spin (sorry, dance is hard to explain). Summer kept shouting instructions, correcting students as they attempted their turns and encouraging them to take bigger chances. She said many insightful things, but this one stood out for me:
“Whenever you make changes, make them as yourself.”
This is so simple, so obvious and so hard to do. What I was seeing in the students is the same thing that I have experienced in myself as an actor and what I see in people trying to have a bigger presence and be more influential. They are trying something new and feeling vulnerable while also trying to meet an expectation on the outside. They are attempting to be the change they think people want to see, which is impossible. Or rather it is impossible to make that change be authentic.
(Unless we want to become puppets)
People talk a lot about authenticity as though it were a commodity. It isn’t. Nobody has cornered the market on authenticity. Everyone has the potential to be brilliantly authentic. The irony is that while everything we do has the potential to be genuine, our need to fend off embarrassment or failure keeps us from trusting what is already inside us.
Fear is the barrier to trusting ourselves and creating an opening for our own greatness.
As William Hurt once said:
“Those who function out of fear, seek security. Those who function out of trust, seek freedom.”
(Freedom to be brilliant)
Change requires us to be brave.
The more profound the change, the more courage we will need.
Those dancers who were trying something new are no different than you or I. We all feel naked and vulnerable when we are trying to change our behavior, our environment and our way of being in this world.
What can we do about it?
This is one of those moments when I like to turn to Amy Poehler for her wisdom:
(uh, no, not that one.)
“Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy comes when you do something you love.”
That’s the antidote to fear. Creativity is the ultimate expression of change. When we create something and when we innovate, we are making a profound change in the world. We are expressing a piece of ourselves. We are expressing our soul.
When we operate out of fear, fear is what we get. When we seek security in the form of playing it safe, forcing outcomes or judging and condemning the process, we create a system of rigidity and inauthenticity.
We cannot make meaningful change without being vulnerable, without beginning with our true selves.
Trust yourself. Trust the people who are with you.
Find what lights you up and focus on that.
It will be okay.
No, it will be more than okay.
It will be the fullest expression of your true self (and that of your organization).
And that is something worth fighting for.