I remember vividly when 2009 gave way to 2010. In retrospect, the dawn of 2010 seems like a moment in the space-time continuum that just happened unnoticed, because it was already accounted for in my life. I was preoccupied with learning to be a parent of two (just had my second child), with being a graduate student (while working full time) and with living in a city pulsating with the excitement of preparing to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The turn of this decade feels different. It feels more like slow motion. Perhaps it is only because I have been paying a bit more attention. I have been mulling over what 2019 has meant for me, what I am grateful for and what may be ahead for me in the tomorrows that we labels the 2020s. Perhaps it is because in my space-time continuum I am 10 years older and the past 10 years feel like they sped by so that I am a little more conscious of the passage of my human time. Or perhaps it is because the world feels like a qualitatively different place for me than it did 10 years ago. Either way, there is so much I am grateful for as I have been savouring the highlights of the past decade we are saying goodbye to and reflecting on 2019 in particular. For me, 2019, is the year I led change.
The past year has been filled for me with leading major changes in every role I occupy. In my internal organization role, I led several complex and transformational changes – some of which were anticipated and several that were emergent as the year went by. In my external consulting role, I transitioned all my clients from envisioning change to putting their visions into motion – implementing changes that required them to lead, not dictate change planning. In my non-profit leadership role, we went through a season of implementing changes that were inherent in new policies we had co-created in the prior year. And as a parent, my husband and life partner and I transitioned to middle-school parenting, in which I have found my change leadership knowledge and practice invaluable, albeit not foolproof. It has been a time of significant stretch for me. I have not only been supporting leaders through change, but also leading change (and changing) myself.
Beyond all the change theory and practice, three lessons stand out for me when I think of what has been honed and sharpened for me to stay sane in the midst of all the noise and overwhelm.
- Power (use of)
Perseverance for me is the tenacity to carry on, even when things seem fruitless. In every change situation above, there were moments that felt like stalemate or just like too much was going on for progress in the direction that was needed. In every case, I focused on solutions to the immediate challenge while holding the big picture constant. I asked questions like: What do we need to do now? What is most important in this moment? What top one to three actions must we take now? In every case, this orientation served me well in moving myself and others forward. Neuroscience has taught us that this orientation to solutions works because it helps us get to insights and from complexity sciences, we know this is the principle of adaptive action (next wise action) that keeps a collective progressing through complex change. For all you Star Wars fans out there, The Rise of Skywalker just gave us a new one-liner for this principle in a coaching moment to Rey (no more spoilers if you haven’t seen it!) – When you don’t know what to do, do the next right thing.
Presence – There were more times than I can count when I had too little time to prepare for the next thing; or was just plain exhausted; or over-scheduled; or overwhelmed by all that was needed and all the demands on my time. What most helped – Presence. For me, this means letting go of all my shoulds and focusing on what’s right in front of me and most importantly, being present with the people I am with in those moments. In letting go of shoulds, I am able to just be myself and open up to the possibilities in the situation. I have learnt that fretting about what should or could have been only contribute to chaos and that as a change leader, my greatest currency is my presence. What helped me? A whole lot of self-care – insisting on time for me to recharge, reading as a means of reflecting, sense-making and generating creative ideas when I am feeling stuck and most importantly, trusting the power of what emerges in conversation about the things that matter most.
Power – Walking the tightrope of the use of power as a leader has been a tremendous lesson this year. I think that if there is anything the current rumblings of the leadership context of our world is teaching us, it is how critical the conscious, ethical and courageous use of power and privilege in leaders matters. It has certainly been my experience that as change escalates to that point of chaos and overwhelm before perseverance gives way to encouraging results, my every single word and action matter…and ultimately require translation if any part of it is unclear or leading to misplaced actions because of different interpretations. I have learned that patience is required in restating what I think I have already been clear about and that the best use of the positional power inherent in my leadership roles is my supportive actions and not just my words.
I am thankful for the stretch that 2019 has been and look forward to what this year…and this decade…have prepared me for in 2020 and beyond…
A very happy new year to you all.