We don’t really trust change.
I can hear some of you saying: “That’s not true, we change easily, all the time!”
Really? Then let’s change; you go first. 😃
I think we accept the obvious examples that we all “change.” If we didn’t, then we would like the same movies we did when we were eight, or decorate our adult homes like our college dorm room. Of course we change! As a child I hated asparagus, as an adult I love it (especially roasted with a hint of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper) but that’s not the change where the rub occurs. We accept our change just fine. It’s other people’s change we don’t trust.
Have you ever said to someone: “Since when do you like country music?” or “You’re eating that? You know it has garlic in it, right? You hate garlic!” Of course, we can change — it’s other people who can’t.
We have a habit of not believing and trusting people can be different. Our change makes sense, but theirs never does. Perhaps it’s because our past, or our past with them, tells us they won’t — or can’t — change. Or, perhaps, it’s because we just don’t give them the space; every time they try we push them back to their past rather than helping pull them into their future.
Part of the problem lies in the joke that a “conclusion is that place where we got tired of thinking.” Once we’ve taken the time to “figure someone out,” we want to move on. We got it. This is who they are. If they change, then we have to do the work of re-understanding them. And who has time for that?
Another part of the problem, I fear, is that we’ve devolved into a culture that is purely punitive. A mistake occurs and we immediately ask: Who is responsible? Whose head is going to roll? We tend to believe mistakes are intentional and manipulative, and we don’t want to be the sucker that falls for it and gets played. The idea of learning from that mistake and growing, evolving or changing seldom enters the equation.
If we could somehow let go of the pain of the past, we could ask ourselves a different question. All of our insight, our philosophy, our logic, comes from the mining of our past. It’s what creates us to be who we are today. And of course, there’s value and beauty in that process — but not when it’s valued above all else. The stock market doesn’t allow us to define future performance based on past economic behaviors, why then do we insist that we can do so with people? The past is meant for learning, not repeating — and that’s worth repeating:
The past is meant for learning, not repeating.
And repeating the past is the root of the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Leaders often feel like they don’t have time for learning when it comes to people. There’s too much to do and too little time to get it done, so we tend to jump to the conclusions of people we formed when we got tired of thinking and learning about them.
In what way is time for you to give yourself and/or another the space to grow, the room to learn, the encouragement to be different? In what way are you holding yourself or someone else to their past instead of their possibility? And what do you need as a leader to be able to pause, let go of the past and engage with insatiable curiosity? Yes, it will take time. Yes, you will feel like the new pushes against your understanding of the past. But consider the butterfly. It can’t emerge from the cocoon without the growth of its wings and the struggle it takes to break out of the “box” his past caterpillar self had put her in. Most people, I believe, want to change in positive, powerful, evolving, improving ways, but so often, others have added so much to our cocoon, we can’t break free alone.
Can you help?