Your Growth Hinges on This: Do I React or Do I Respond?
Years ago, a work colleague of mine often said, “change is my friend and I will embrace it.” I haven’t thought much about that statement until I entered a season of extraordinary change. Recognizing that all of these circumstances were beyond my control, I began focusing more on my response to the change, rather than the change itself.
For context, allow me to describe the change I have experienced in the last 24 months. My husband and I lost three of our parents. We are “mid-launch” with our children. One son graduated law school and got married. The second son is six hours away at college and the third one entered high school and now has a driver’s license. After working with the same leader for 15 years, I started reporting to a new leader at work. Additionally, the actual work I do was restructured four times in four years. And most recently, I am leaving my current role to start and lead a brand new function within the company. I joined a new board with new responsibilities and so did my husband. Lastly, I authored and (soon to be) published a book. There were other changes, but these are the ones that stand out the most and these are the ones that required my focused response.
If you paused and took stock or your life, I suspect you would have as lengthy and complex a list as I do. Change is inevitable and the question is: Do I react or do I respond? The answer truly determines whether we grow or we get stuck. Leaders grow through change. They embrace change.
Here are 8 steps to consider to positively respond to change:
1. Be still.
That may sound like an odd response, especially to people who are always making decisions and planning outcomes. The first response to change is not to do, but to think. Think it through. Look at all sides. Seek to understand the change. Process the change through your mind AND heart. Identify what you are feeling about the change: grief, anger, excitement, challenge, fear or any other emotion. Naming the emotion helps us respond and not react.
2. Envision a response.
How I respond to change as a leader impacts my followership. In my mind, I envision the person they will see, whether the followers are my family, friends, colleagues or people that I don’t even know are watching. I give lots of thought as to how I will show up in the lives of others and how my response can impact their ability to grow or cause them to stagnate.
3. Process with a trusted advisor.
Talking to a spouse, best friend, counselor, coach or mentor brings the response plan to life and allows you to process thoughts, feelings and ideas in a safe environment with someone who is “for” you. A trusted advisor can provide feedback and additional insights. This person can help you refine your response plan.
4. Embrace the change.
Once you have identified with the feelings surrounding significant change, it is time to move forward. Depending on the type of change, the timetable is different. Recovering from grief generally takes much longer than adjusting to a work change, but in all cases, at some point, we must move forward.
5. Be game ready.
I am not suggesting that we should ever not be our authentic self, but as leaders we need to be ready to play if we step onto the field. My rule (adopted from a trusted advisor) is: If I can’t play, I don’t stay. For those around me to grow during times of change, when I show up, I have to be ready to lead or support, depending on my role in those circumstances. If not, I drain the energy from others.
6. Seize the opportunity.
There is opportunity in every change. Even in losing our parents, my husband and I paused to think about important things we wanted to do together. We also “put our house in order.” It was our way of moving forward. With work changes, there is always something new to be learned, even new achievements possible and a different impact. When my son married, it did change our relationship (as it should), but I gained a daughter and my husband and I have two new adult friends in our lives.
7. Continue to seek feedback.
Ask others to help you understand how you are impacting those around you during times of great change. When we respond, rather than react, we have a great chance of positive impact. As leaders, one of our most important goals is to positively impact those around us.
8. Prepare for more change.
Change is constant throughout our lives and if we can learn through each cycle, we are better prepared to respond, and not react, to change when the next cycle surfaces. Responding, and not reacting, can become ingrained in our habits, and soon become core to who we are.
Benjamin Franklin said, “When you are finished changing, you are finished.” If we don’t want to be finished in any arena, we must embrace the changes, respond and grow. On the other side of change, I think we will be glad we did.