For the past year, I have been working on a new book about leading change. With over 40 years of experience leading change in organizations and in my consulting practice, I chose to reflect on the conscious practices I use. Sometimes there are lessons we learn in life that move out of our consciousness yet still shape how we live. When I raise those lessons that have dropped below my consciousness, I often find the real source of the wisdom I have accumulated about change. This new book will reveal many of those lessons, lifted up from below my day-to-day consciousness.   

Moving past the fear of change

The prevailing wisdom of change work is that people don’t like change. The implication is that change is something people fear and will therefore resist. This worldview is attached to the mechanistic metaphor we use when thinking about our organizations. In a machine, the status quo means everything is working. For example, if my car is working as designed, it is dependable, predictable, and will get me where I want to go. If something changes in my car, its dependability decreases because that change is labeled as “off specifications” meaning it could fail to function as designed.

In nature, change is happening all the time! In a living system, if we aren’t changing, we are dying because we aren’t keeping pace with the changes in the larger system we live in.

We need to reframe how people think about change. It’s time to depart from the belief that change is “bad” and something to fear. Instead, we need to think about how change is a natural part of any living system,  and how it builds resilience and adaptability for individuals and organizations.

I have found three ways to help people move through their fears and engage in co-creating change that is necessary for them and their organizations. This type of change allows us to become more resilient and adaptive to thrive in the future. The three strategies I’ve found to be most effective are: 

  1. Believe change is possible.  People want to see change, but they don’t always believe that change is possible. For example, if an organization or team has a toxic culture, most people want and hope it can change, but they lack the belief that it can happen. With any kind of change, key individuals have stories about those who believed in them before they believed in themselves. This is what I do as a change consultant. I believe that the organization cannot truly change until it begins to believe in itself! This idea isn’t something you will find in a book on leading change because it is more intangible than the typical tactics and strategies that we attach to change work. I have found that the presence of believing in a better outcome is more powerful in achieving success than any other tangible tactic we use.
  2. Articulate a powerful purpose and why the change matters. Another way facilitators of change can help people move past their fear is by articulating a higher purpose of why this kind of change matters. Sometimes people are afraid of change because it isn’t clear what will happen on the other side of it. I have found that if the reason behind the change is compelling enough, people will show up and work toward making it happen. Fear transcends when what needs to happen is essential for the future. I have met many people who acted with this kind of courage, even though they didn’t feel they were courageous. What caused them to overcome their fear? A powerful purpose compelled them to act despite their fear.
  3. Walk together towards the future in the company of others. The third strategy to help people move past their fear is to engage in change and work together. Fear often diminishes our willingness to take risks. When we surround ourselves with others who also want to move toward a compelling purpose, we share the risk together and can move through fear as a result.

I hope these three strategies can give you some ideas on how to move through the fear that is stopping our evolution as individuals, organizations, and communities. Let me know if you have anything to add. What are your strategies for moving past fear?