Change Leader Mistake #1 – Planting Your Idea in Barren Soil

In the last blog post on The Top 7 Mistakes Change Leaders Make I mentioned the importance of looking at common mistakes as an entry point into exploring the success habits of great change leaders.

To recap, the top 7 mistakes I’ve noticed after 20 years of surveying and working with change leaders are:

1) Planting your idea in barren soil
2) Planting the wrong kind of seed
3) Not enough watering and fertilization
4) No stays
5) Letting the bugs and weeds take over
6) Lack of pruning
7) Letting it go to seed

In my upcoming book, The Change Artist Principles, I will explore each of these mistakes via case studies and how the mistakes made became the grounding agents that led to the successful adoption of new habits.

The first is trying to plant your seed of change in barren soil. Another way to look at it is an over focus on protection and safety at the expense of growth. According to cellular biologist and PhD, Bruce Lipton, most organisms operate in either protection mode or growth mode but cannot be operating in both modes at the same time. An organism (or an organization) that continually focuses on safety and protection cannot grow. Many change leaders won’t or cannot launch a change because the individuals (and thus the organization as a whole) get stuck in fight or flight mode far too often. This leaves no resources left over for growth.

How big is your organizational defense budget?

If decision makers in your organization have an unresolved trauma around change, then you will need to address this before you propose a growth tactic. While some amount of protection is useful to ensure survival, a large number of organizations have allocated most of their resources in that direction since the economic downturn. You can also see this phenomenon play out at the national level when a country overspends on defense and under-spends on areas that could help society grow such as the arts, research, education and social programs.

What is the mind set governing your organization?

The first step to this process is to get into the habit of testing the soil into which you want to plant your seed of change. It must have the right Ph balance of protection versus growth. Individuals must also maintain the right Ph balance in order to stay healthy. Think of the last time you felt stressed. It was probably because you perceived that your “safety” was at stake. The brain will more exclusively operate from the Reptilian Complex, or the fight or flight brain, not just when you feel physically at risk but also when you risk losing anything you care about: job, relationship; reputation, income, comfort, security, pride, etc. While in this state of mind your body will focus the majority of resources on surviving; running away or fighting. You have thus lost resources normally used for maintaining your immune system or for healing or detoxifying the body. If you stay in that fight or flight state for too long then you will likely experience some kind of disease.

Symptoms of organizational dis-ease

Similarly if an organization (or the collective energy of the individuals within it) perceive that its “safety” is at risk for too long then disease can set in. Organizational disease can take the form of customer complaints, office politics, system break downs, or employee attrition. Organizational dis-ease (or lack of ease) can then beget more disease as resources must be used to cover for people who are ill, to find a replacement for someone who quits, to mediate office politics, or to recover from a customer complaint. Boosting your organization’s “immune system” by balancing protection with growth can make all the difference. This allows more resources for areas such as system upgrades, team building, adding new positions, market research or product development. The first step is to uncover the underlying mind set governing your organization or company. Ask yourself right now: what is the balance between protection versus growth?

Two different perceptions of the same situation

It’s easy to see that you could choose a different perception by looking at how two different people react to the same situation. One person may perceive a move from one building to another as a horrible discomfort causing them sleepless nights. This perception came from a decision they probably made sometime in the past and which now colors their possible future. These decisions can always be changed. Another person might see the same move as an opportunity to de-clutter their work area, get to know new people, and be refreshed by a change of environment. What we perceive affects our experience which in turn affects our biology, which in turn affects our performance, and by association those we work with and those our organization serves. In further blog posts I will explore some of the more popular methods of re-mapping your brain around change–or making new decisions that will create less stressful perceptions.

Case Study: W.L. Gore & Associates

Here is a short case study about a company that has a good balance between protection and growth. After rigorous evaluation Fast Company magazine finally voted W.L. Gore & Associates as the most innovative company in America a few years back. You’ve no doubt heard of its most famous product: Gore-Tex fabrics, which have a transparent plastic coating that makes them waterproof and windproof but keeps them breathable. They also make over 1000 different other products such as synthetic blood vessels, Glide dental floss, the first floss that resisted shredding, and the Elixir guitar strings, which last five times longer than normal strings.

Gore is known for being as innovative in its operating principles as it is in its diverse product lines. For example, they create sustainable growth by making people feel safe to take risks. Since they are a privately owned company they don’t have to report their quarterly earnings, thus they happily allocate 10% of their resources to new initiatives and allow anyone in the company who wants to try a new initiative a generous amount of resources to develop it. Of course, some of those initiatives fail, but they expect that. And, when Gore people pull the plug on a failing initiative, they’ll still have a “celebration” with beer or champagne, just as they would if it had been a success. Because they know that lowers stress and validates trying new things and thus helps the whole company continue to grow.

What if I don’t work for a company with that kind of value system?

You may be asking “What if I don’t work for a company with that kind of mind set or value system—what can I do?” You don’t need to be the head of a company to influence these kinds of changes. People at any level of an organization can make a difference through small habits. How you treat others acts as inspiration in many cases for others. It has a ripple effect.

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