Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?
Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?
Change facilitators who strive to advance who they are as much as what they do when practicing their craft are a relatively small tribe within the broader change professional community. Small, tight-knit tribes are usually able to maintain their centers of gravity more easily than large groups that often struggle to preserve their common denominators. There appears to be an emerging bonding force among practitioners interested in exploring how they show up (not just what to do after showing up). I would describe it as the pursuit of three things:
The introspective work necessary for a serious exploration of the relationship between character, presence, and clients is not for everyone. Most practitioners avoid it altogether or approach it only peripherally. That’s why those who do take this path share a common tie that usually transcends the boundaries that normally keep change practitioners in insular enclaves.
Even with the availability of Internet browsing, an unlimited array of change-related online discussion groups, and a growing number of practitioner associations, far too many seasoned people in our field restrict their exchanges to their own work teams, company/consulting firm, devotees of a particular methodology, or graduates from a certain university or training program. Those who do expose themselves to thinking and experiences outside familiar communication channels are often motivated more by the opportunity to display their knowledge and accomplishments than they are by the prospect of deeply listening to and valuing diverse perspectives and learning from others. There are plenty of exceptions to this kind of closed-mindedness, but more often than not, change practitioners collect themselves into insulated, self-referencing feedback loops that tend to minimize cross-pollination.
When this happens, the boundaries that separate professionals in our field only become stronger as competing egos battle for supremacy. Generally speaking, I haven’t found this to be the case with practitioners eager to delve deep within themselves so they can be better prepared to serve their clients and advance the profession.
Relatively few people are drawn to professional development that focuses on “who we are.” When those people find kindred spirits, they tend to disregard typical restrictions and interact with each other on a free and open basis. To them, the chance to learn from, and be mutually supportive of other practitioners on a similar journey, is more important than being constrained by parochial loyalties.
The ultimate litmus test for this kind of collaboration occurs when crossing competitive lines. Traditionally, few in our profession want to exchange information about something that could foster client effectiveness with anyone from an opposing team. Yet, this is exactly what happens most of the time among practitioners exploring who they are. I believe this is primarily because of the respect and camaraderie that naturally emerges when two or more people exchange views and experiences about something few other people pursue. In the same way that two pioneers meeting in the wilderness stop and offer each other fellowship, solidarity, and assistance, two otherwise competitive change practitioners can find themselves lowering their guard and lifting their interaction to a higher level when they find out they both value who they are as much as what they do.
Minimizing Competitive Shields
Practitioners truly committed to developing how they show up when practicing the craft display a permeability with each other that tends to override the classic protective mechanisms that keep people at a distance. They come together with a common purpose—a desire to raise the stakes on themselves. In doing so, they merge their energy in a way that generates a collective uplift around what they can expect from themselves and each other. It is powerfully unifying to be part of a tribe that not only shares a common purpose, but whose members provide each other the learning and support needed for the journey.
These are special practitioner tribes striving to achieve heights that would be unattainable for some if left to their singular efforts. The bonding agent among them is their belief that they must all make progress together if they are to succeed individually. Each individual’s energy is spread to the other members, and is simultaneously boosted by the combined strength of the tribe. The tribe gains strength as its individuals do, and the collective upsurge enables individual advancement. It doesn’t matter if some in the tribe work for competing organizations; what is more important is the camaraderie that comes with a community that shares a mutual passion.
So why would you want your competitors to care about character and presence?
Prejudices are based on assuming fundamental differences that don’t exist. It is important that we seek out and support all change professionals endeavoring to strengthen the who they are aspect of practicing our craft. Whether they come from within your organization or are competitors from down the street…find practitioners dedicated to exploring who they are and treat them as valued colleagues on the same pilgrimage as you.
What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?
What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?
The change facilitation community has grown tremendously since the early pioneering days, when there were only a few of us trying to find our way through uncharted territory. Now that executing organizational change is an accepted professional discipline, there is an abundance of both internal and external practitioners; and more join the ranks all the time.
In observing this steady expansion over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. It appears that the majority of people in our field for five years or more fall into one of three categories:
Of course, this isn’t the only way to segment change facilitators, but these differentiations are useful to the point I want to raise in this post: I believe a person’s investment in the two primary aspects of practicing our craft (What We Do and Who We Are) can be predicted to an extent by knowing which of these categories he or she falls within.
First, I’ll acknowledge the dangers of oversimplifying the complexities of life by pigeonholing people with rigid labels. Yes, we must always be careful when placing people in categories. Also, I don’t mean to imply anything negative about any of the three categories. They each have an inherent logic, purpose, and clearly deliver value to clients. My aim in drawing out these three distinctions is not to declare one better than another. I want to call attention to their implications for pursuing the who we are versus the what we do aspects of being a professional change practitioner.
That said, here are my observations. In general, I have found that those in the A category tend to be more absorbed in learning what to do than in exploring who they are. Bs are interested in how they show up, but are still primarily invested in acquiring new concepts and frameworks. Cs are more inclined to explore how who they are impacts their effectiveness than to add new tools and techniques to their repertoire.
Based on four decades of training thousands of change agents, I’ve seen a clear pattern where it is
Five Characteristics of Category C
Although these are only a few features from the signature pattern of Cs, I hope they call attention to why Cs are the most likely practitioners to engage in a meaningful pursuit of character and presence. Professional change facilitators with these tendencies are the ones who naturally see the value to clients and themselves of strengthening how they show up in their work.
If you see your own reflection in any of the above descriptors, ask yourself if exploring who you are has been a high enough priority in your professional development agenda. If any of the qualities remind you of an associate, consider asking whether he or she has considered delving deeper into how their character and presence impacts their effectiveness with clients. Sometimes, all that is needed to help practitioners start the journey is for them to be recognized (by themselves or someone else) as demonstrating some of the same characteristics as the Cs in our profession who are drawn to this kind of personal exploration.
A Shift in Blog Cadence
A Shift in Blog Cadence
Since 2009, I have authored more than 70 series (200+ separate posts) under the Change Thinking banner. When I set out on this writing odyssey, I wanted to maintain a rhythm of publishing one post every week. I have remained true to that pace for almost four years.
I have much more to say about why I feel who we are as change practitioners is at least as important as what we do. How we show up when serving our clients—the character and presence we bring forward—is a much-neglected aspect of practicing our craft and I plan to keep blogging about it for as long as you continue to tell me you are interested in the subject. However, I will no longer post every week. Instead, I am moving to a periodic publishing schedule. By shifting to a slower, less regimented stride, I’ll still be able to keep the character/presence conversation fresh, but I’ll also have time for some other projects I’m eager to launch (more about those in the future).
You can learn when new posts are published by:
I encourage you to draw on what is already in the blog. Just look in the sidebar for multiple ways to find what is available. (You can also click on Glossary in the navigation bar to access dozens of terms reflecting key points from previous postings.)
I look forward to what comes next on this writing journey and I hope you continue to find it of interest. Thanks for your encouragement, support, and participation during Change Thinking’s evolution.
The first post of this series issued a call for an increased focus on thought leadership regarding character and presence. In the second post, I discussed the archetypes Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, Periodic Contributors, and Thought Leaders. In the third, I explained how each archetype exemplifies a different way in which character and presence play a role in the practice of our craft. The fourth post elaborated on the characteristics of a Thought Leader. Below, I offer some key points on the environment necessary to foster the growth of more Thought Leaders who can advocate that who we are should take a more prominent place in our professional development.
The two primary facets to being a change agent are represented by what you do and who you are. Both aspects are reflected in the work performed by five archetypical practitioners: Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, Periodic Contributors, and Thought Leaders. Each adds in its own way to the successes clients are able to achieve today, and to the development of our profession to meet the challenges of the future. Which of the archetypes you play is a function of your character, the presence you convey, and where you are in your maturation as a practitioner.
Regardless of which archetype you feel best describes you or to which you aspire, as a professional community, we are woefully under-represented by Thought Leaders who are dedicated to offering perspective and guidance toward the who we are side of our work. The lack of awareness and skill associated with how we show up is compounded further by so little Thought Leadership being provided in this area. I do not believe that as a profession we will ever approach our potential without considerable influence from more who we are Thought Leaders than we have today.
This series is directed to those practitioners who feel they meet or could meet the criteria for being Thought Leaders in our profession (being designated as such by others, not themselves). If you fall into this category and haven’t already done so, I encourage you to come forward when writing books, articles, or blogs, giving speeches, coaching/mentoring or any other means you use to convey your views, and express how you relate to who we are when practicing our craft.
Whether you use character and presence as reference points or other topics to explore your lessons learned, as a profession, we need to share our wisdom with other practitioners so they can benefit from your experience as they pursue their own path. Your peers (both those leading change and those affected by it), as well as the future of our profession, need what you have to offer. If you are considered a Thought Leader now or believe this designation will come your way in the future, please consider using that platform as a means for helping our profession lift its game to a higher level.
Could You Be a Thought Leader?
In my last post, I wrote about the archetypes of Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Periodic Contributors, Adept Adventurers, and Thought Leaders. I discussed the critical role each plays and introduced the Thought Leader as one who has a central role in helping our profession realize its who we are potential. In this post, I will address more specifics related to what it takes to be a Thought Leader dedicated to exploring and leveraging how we show up as part of the value we create for clients.
True Thought Leaders Are Rare
We can’t all function as Solid Performers or Adept Adventurers, nor can we all operate as Thought Leaders—and that is a good thing. Our professional community needs to reflect the full range of roles to properly serve clients and advance the craft.
My intent in writing this series isn’t to convince everyone to pursue being a Thought Leader; it is to call out those with this predisposition and ask that you come forward and become more visibly engaged. Thought Leaders spend considerable time and energy pondering new observations and sharing their perspectives in coaching/mentoring relationships, speeches, writings, etc. If there were too many active at this level there wouldn’t be enough practitioners left to benefit from all their wisdom.
There are change facilitators in our ranks who have not yet gravitated to Thought Leader status (but will), and some who are not cut out for it but still serve their clients and help mature our profession in their own way. This is a designation that, by definition, will always represent a small portion of those in our field. I personally know only a few senior practitioners whom I view as Thought Leaders who attend to who we are issues specifically within the change execution profession. Among them are Linda and Dean Anderson, and Mel Toomey. I’m not suggesting these are the only ones out there—they are just practitioners of this nature with whom I’m most familiar.
There are plenty of contributors to who we are perspectives in related fields (counseling, coaching, education, and even our closest relative, organizational development) that change agents have borrowed from over the years. However, Thought Leaders who have broken new who we are ground specifically intended for organizational change practitioners are rare, and that is the point of this blog series.
Why are there so few? First, there aren’t many Thought Leaders in general, much less those attending to who we are issues. Not everyone has the foundational elements needed for such a role. But, beyond the basic prerequisites is the weight of the role itself. The demands are high and call for a commitment to both client work and the present and future of our profession. Thought Leaders’ laboratories are the organizations in which they practice their craft, whether as internal agents or external consultants. As such, every day, they must focus on the changes they are assigned to support, while also remaining vigilant for any new observation, emerging pattern, or insight that could help further the profession’s growth.
These are the requirements of any Thought Leader. The focus for this writing, however, is the need for more pioneers in the who we are space, so let’s take a closer look at some of the unique features of those who push the envelope regarding this aspect of practicing our craft.
This doesn’t make sense in the classic, win-lose business model mindset, where intellectual property is protected from rival access. Thought Leaders, however, carry two responsibilities: one is centered on their own practice or business and one is focused on advancing the profession. Balancing these influences can present conflicting priorities, but generally speaking, Thought Leaders disseminate what they learn openly and broadly.
They do so because, in most cases, they don’t think in terms of zero sum situations. They believe that it is good for their own proprietary interest for the overall profession to raise its game.
- Thought Leaders are dedicated to transferring capability. It is fulfilling for them to see recipients of their work (clients, colleagues, and competitors) not only apply what was shared but take it to a level beyond what the Thought Leader envisioned. When this happens, not only does the professional community benefit, but the Thought Leader profits by becoming a recipient of the learning received back from his or her former student and is freed to address more sophisticated who we are challenges.
- Finally, serving as a Thought Leader demands both vulnerability and self-confidence. It involves a consistent commitment to experimentation that is fueled by new insights, understandings, and the questions they raise. The gains that are enjoyed are punctuated by plenty of mistakes—some small, some major—and learning from them. In this way, thought leadership is not for the meek or the grandiose.
- While there is acceptance of the accountability that comes with others being influenced by their perspectives, Thought Leaders are also humbled by the responsibility that comes with that label and never takes it for granted. They know that the designation people have conferred on them must be re-earned every day.
Some environments nurture thought leadership, while others stifle it. In the last post of this series, I will address what is required to cultivate thought leadership.