Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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Recent Posts

Mindfully Holding Space (free eBook)

Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?

What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?

A Shift in Blog Cadence

The Thought Leadership Environment

Mindfully Holding Space (free eBook)

Categories: Holding Space

Cover Photo Source: “Cracked Nails” ©Bob Jenkins, reproduced under the Creative Commons license at Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been “holding space” (creating environments where clients can feel safe and supported while resolving important issues) for as long as I can remember. I am so accustomed to applying it in my work that, until recently, it never occurred to me to examine what the term really meant or how I actually went about doing it. For the most part, it was something I did spontaneously without a lot of thought.

 At some point, however, I started taking notice of the language I was using when I referred to it. Two questions surfaced that I didn’t have answers to:

  • How did the “holding” actually take place? I wasn’t cradling anything tangible in my hands, so how was I accomplishing the activity?
  • What was in the “space I was holding?” What was being grasped—what constituted this thing I was somehow metaphorically clutching?

 I began paying more attention to my own actions and talking to and observing other practitioners to find out what they did when holding space for clients. I found so many variations to what it meant and how to do it that I was left with more questions than answers.

 Almost everyone I asked felt that holding space is a way to help clients come to their own conclusions without giving them answers or recommendations. Beyond that, however, I couldn’t find much similar ground. When it comes to processes or even definitions of key variables, there seems to be very little consistency in our professional community.

 I finally determined that for many of us (myself included), there are essentially one of two approaches to holding space:

  1. We either go about it intuitively, without spending much time questioning or examining what we do, or
  2. We think through for ourselves how to do it, but we can’t explain our process with enough precision to give others specific guidance. As a result, many attempts to describe holding space come across as a bit esoteric.

I found myself squarely in the second category. Once I realized that I couldn’t adequately explain to myself, much less to anyone else, how I went about holding space, I felt an obligation to do something about it. That turned into a project of looking at my own experience to more clearly understand what was important for me about this activity and then sharing in the blog whatever I learned. Because Change Thinking is dedicated to exploring the who we are side of practicing our craft (as well as the what we do aspects), I sought to not only delve deeper into what holding space meant for me, but also to examine it through the lens of its relationship to character and presence.

 The ensuing investigation proved to be far more extensive than I anticipated. When I finally finished the last draft, I realized what had unfolded didn’t fit within the blog format, so instead of releasing it in multiple postings, I decided to create an eBook that you can view or download here.

 If holding space for clients is an intervention you are familiar with and have an interest in, I invite you to read the document. Please keep something in mind however—this is not an attempt to describe the “right” way to hold space; it is my view on one way. The intended audience for this blog is seasoned practitioners…most of whom are familiar with the concept, if not the practice, of holding space. I’m sharing my thoughts not as a model to necessarily adopt, but as an example of what can be learned when we explore for ourselves how we each engage the holding space process.

 You may choose to incorporate some of the aspects I uncovered for myself into your practice, but that’s not my main purpose here. Ultimately, my hope is that by reading about my conclusions, you will be encouraged to initiate your own exploratory journey—to discover the elements in your process that you value and want to keep front and center as you support clients in this way.

If you are motivated to explore this aspect of your work, please share whatever you learn with others. Only by offering our perspectives to each other about this activity can we advance toward a deeper understanding that will benefit all of us.

Posted on: July 01, 2014 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?

Work with your competitors when the interests of the community and planet are at stake.—Simon Mainwaring

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?

  • If they are on the same quest as you to bring forward and integrate character and presence into their work, it matters more to be supportive members of the same tribe than to compete against each other for new business.
  • There are plenty of other practitioners with which to compete. How often do you find a comrade-in-arms engaged in his or her version of the same Hero’s Journey you are on?
  • When the tribe is supportive of all who attempt to lift their game (including competitors), all boats in the harbor rise—clients and practitioners alike benefit when the entire profession elevates its standards.

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.

Posted on: November 05, 2013 08:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?

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:

  1. Those who are basically agnostic about the work itself and see it primarily as a means of employment
  2. Those who enjoy participating in the work and find it both interesting and, to a degree, personally rewarding
  3. 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.

Posted on: October 15, 2013 06:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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.

Posted on: September 17, 2013 08:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Thought Leadership Environment

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.

  • In our profession, thought leadership of any nature is cultivated best in actively changing environments where actual sponsors, agents, and targets are transitioning in real time. Although some useful insights can and have surfaced in think tanks and academic settings, generally speaking, the most impactful thought leadership comes from real work experience—practitioners who spend a substantial portion of their time in the field with clients.
  • Who we are Thought Leaders tend to flourish in environments where there is an awareness of and commitment to the role character and presence plays in our work. They seem to have the greatest impact when in situations where there is an intellectual and emotional—sometimes even cathartic—devotion to discovering more about “how we show up” makes a difference in our client work and the advancement of our entire professional community.
  • Thought Leaders who have the most impact on advocating who we are, usually come from, or operate in, working environments that display patience. Insights do not occur on schedule, nor are they often “born whole.” It takes time to nurture and grow them, to grasp their full essence, and to find the best way to share that with others. 
  • Thought Leaders seem to be most productive when functioning in environments occupied not only by other Thought Leaders but also by Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, and Periodic Contributors. Each archetype brings its own gifts and limitations. In combination, the diversity of maturity levels surfaces issues and questions that serve as input to stoke the creative juices in the Thought Leader. It is when the Thought Leader is most stirred and challenged that his or her best work emerges.
  • Thought Leaders who contribute the most to the progress of who we are seem to thrive in environments that encourage both/and, not either/or mindsets. For example:
    • There is both a commitment to maintaining alignment between character and presence, and to being open to new ways of showing up when facing the unknown.
    • There is a broad-based commitment to both succeeding at the current initiative and advancing the state of the profession.
    • There is both a strong respect for the lessons of the past and a determination to understand beyond what those lessons provide.
    • There is both great value placed on generating new ideas and a high degree of rigor imposed on their development and dissemination of the information shared.
  • Thought leadership does not occur in a vacuum. Those who are most effective at applying this archetype to who we are establish synergistic relationships with others, often serving the role of the catalyst for generating new ways of showing up in our work. There is little investment in the ownership of ideas, nor is there ego attached to the ideas themselves. While there is pride in what has been developed and put forward, there is also a detachment that allows it to be easily released when deeper understanding leads to new insights or new directions.
  • Many Thought Leaders maintain a developmental relationship with one or more mentors to whom they look for wisdom and guidance as they continue on their own learning journey. A reliable axiom to follow is “don’t trust any teacher who doesn’t have a teacher from whom he or she is still learning.”

Closing Thoughts

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.

Go to the beginning of this series.

Posted on: September 10, 2013 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

A conference is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.

- Fred Allen



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