The Fearsome Prospect Of Changing

Long experience as an executive and consultant have taught me that many if not most people not only don’t welcome change in their lives and organizations, they can be really ingenuous at keeping it from happening.  Why the emotional resistance to changing?  It seems to me that fear is the culprit, more often than not.  Many if not most people, so far as I can tell, won’t readily jump on the change bandwagon because they’re afraid to. This might not be true of you if you’re a board member, CEO or senior executive, but the further you move away from the top tier of leadership in an organization, the more fear you are likely to encounter.  What are staff and volunteers afraid of?  For one thing, anxiety, which is anything but a comfortable feeling.  Tried and true routines feel familiar, comfortable, and safe, whereas the possibility of venturing into the unknown to do something really new can feel quite dangerous and cause lots of anxiety.  Perhaps the most fearsome prospect is the possibility of failing at doing something new and suffering the consequent embarrassment or even humiliation.  The fact is, people are sensible to expect emotional pain when changing in important ways, which is why the old saw, “no pain, no gain,” makes sense.

In addition to the very normal human resistance to change that is largely fear-based, in the real world where you and I live and work, staff members and volunteers in nonprofit and public organizations are so busy and under so much pressure – not to speak of feeling pretty anxious and fearful about being jerked out of their comfort zones – that getting them to participate whole-heartedly and creatively in a new planning process is no small challenge. Of course, people can be bludgeoned into going through the motions, but grudging acquiescence isn’t a recipe for the kind of creative involvement that will generate high-stakes out-of-the-box change initiatives.  So the primary goal of your CEO, wearing the Chief Motivator hat, is to get your staff and volunteers to WANT to participate fully in your out-of-the-box change planning process.

Excerpt from Doug Eadie’s forthcoming Leading Out-Of-The-Box Change:  The Chief Executive’s Essential Guide To Achieving Nonprofit Innovation and Growth.  ©Governance Edge Publishing  All rights reserved

Doug Eadie