It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit. —Denis Waitley
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:
- Those who are basically agnostic about the work itself and see it primarily as a means of employment
- Those who enjoy participating in the work and find it both interesting and, to a degree, personally rewarding
- Those who find a deep sense of fulfillment from the work, relate to it as a calling, and feel honored to be a practitioner
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
, C practitioners who are usually the ones most likely to explore how they “show up” influences client effectiveness. Because of this, it is important to help Cs recognize themselves and understand how natural it is to seek opportunities to delve into topics such as how character and presence plays a role in change practitioner effectiveness. With this in mind, I’d like to highlight some additional aspects that make up this category. In doing so, I hope some of you will see characteristics of category C in yourself and that this prompts you to more intentionally incorporate character and presence into your change work.
Five Characteristics of Category C
- They make sense of things in their life through the perspective of their work. By this, I mean that much of how Cs understand and relate to the world around them is through the lens they use as a professional change facilitator. Of course, they see the dynamics of change unfold in their work, but they are also attentive to transitions at home, on TV, at the mall, in church, at the gym, etc. They constantly interpret events in their personal realm via the frameworks and models they use professionally. For them, life is an unending saga of transformations as people move back and forth between periods of relative stability and change, regardless of where the dynamics are occurring.
- They love their work. I’m not using “love” as a metaphor here. Cs don’t “do” their change work, they are in a relationship with their profession. As a result, they feel a range of emotions such as delight, disappointment, respect, devotion, irritation, passion, and protectiveness toward their work that is common in any relationship. In the truest sense of the word, they cherish what they do and who they get to be when doing it.
- The work is an extension of who they are. True, Cs have multiple points of reference for their identity, (husband, father, weekend sailor, former Marine, etc.), but they primarily identify themselves as change practitioners. It’s interesting that we think nothing of doctors, lawyers, or professional athletes becoming preoccupied with their professions. In fact, to an extent, we expect it and reward them for doing so. Yet, some people within our own field feel something must be wrong if a change practitioner becomes gripped and enthralled by his or her work. The idea that professional change practitioners can have a deep dedication to our craft, yet maintain a healthy perspective about their work is a foreign notion to some people. C’s aren’t fanatical—they are simply boldly expressing who they are.
- Their love for the work extends beyond their own practice. Cs typically excel in their change work, but they are also committed to helping the entire profession rise to meet its potential. They provide support and guidance to novices and seasoned peers as well as to colleagues and competitors. They believe it is the entire profession, and not just their practice, that will make the ultimate difference in change execution capabilities. From this standpoint, they feel compelled to be as available as possible to anyone who seeks access to their experience and lessons learned.
- They are motivated by the intrinsic incentives associated with their work. Sure, C’s appreciate being well compensated—every practitioner has his or her own system for measuring how they are valued by others and it almost always includes a financial component. However, they are motivated primarily by the underlying rewards they receive from helping people fully realize their change aspirations, aiding people as they de-victimize themselves from the mysteries of change, assisting clients to become more resilient, and contributing to changes that make a difference in the human condition, etc.
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.