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Archive for Change


Why People Resist Change

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I’m currently reading Tempered Resilience, by Tod Bolsinger, which includes this fabulous quote from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky:

“People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.”

Therefore, when a leader proposes change in an organization, it should come as no surprise that the organization’s stakeholders will resist the change, not because it’s new or different, but because it threatens loss. People who are deeply invested in a church will often become enmeshed to the degree that it becomes their identity. Thus, change creates a loss of identity and even threatens their sense of personal power within the church. It’s not the additions that come with change. It’s the subtractions that come with change. Perhaps this is why churches can create new programs easier than discontinue old, ineffective programs.

Unfortunately, when people feel threatened due to the losses created by change they engage in sabotage. Tod Bolsinger writes, “Acts of sabotage are not the bad things that evil people do to stop good being done in the world. Acts of sabotage are the human things that anxious people do because they fear they are losing what little good is left in the world.”

He continues, “At times of crisis or crossroads of change, anxious relationship systems default back to what is known, believing that it is the only path to self-preservation and survival, even if it means returning to slavery (Exodus 16:3).”

If you’ve served in any kind of organization with any level of longevity, these words will ring true. So what should leaders who aspire to lead change do?

  1. Don’t take resistance personally. Resistance isn’t about you, or even the proposed change. It simply reveals something in nature of those who are resisting. It’s not easy to confess that change makes you feel insecure or threatens your sense of significance. It’s easier to sabotage the change or become adversarial to the leader(s). It’s only personal if you make it personal.
  2. Lead collaboratively. Leaders who want to take personal credit for the new idea will ensure they are the targets for personal attacks. The wise leader will lead collaboratively when introducing change, using whatever governance devices are available to depersonalize the initiative. Even if it’s the leader’s idea, some sabotage can be diffused by introducing the initiative through boards, committees or teams.
  3. Be patient. Leaders can legitimately see change as true no-brainers. But not everyone responds to charts and graphs, not matter how colorful they may be. People need stories that are rooted in the church’s history where they are reminded that change is part of their rich history and such changes have led them to that point. Be willing to communicate and present the idea until people are actually tired of hearing about it. Few things in life are communicated in one message.
  4. Be courageous. The white’s of their eyes matter, so go the second mile by sitting down knee to knee with those who are resisting the change. Give them the time of day. They matter to God, so they should matter to you. You may not win them to your cause, but you can care about them and empathize with the loss you are asking them to accept. And that’s not nothing.

Bolsinger’s book serves as a companion to the book, Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman. If you find yourself in the crucible of leading change, I’d recommend you purchase both. They’re timely and timeless additions to your leadership library.

Categories : Books, Change, Leadership
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Canoeing the Mountains

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The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.

The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.

What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.

Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.

Tod Bolsinger shared this anecdotal story to form the motif of his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He uses this historical event to describe the type of adaptive leadership that is needed in the 21st century. It was written prior to the global pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic is more timely than ever.

Bolsinger suggests five characteristics every leader must possess in order to lead a congregation or organization in unchartered territory:

  1. Recognize you are in uncharted territory, and that the world in front of you is nothing like the world before you.
  2. No one will follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. Competence and credibility on the map is required to develop the necessary trust to advance into the unknown.
  3. Adaptation is the key to leading in uncharted territory. Adaptation is the process of learning and loss. Once we realize the losses won’t kill us, we can embrace a growth mindset and learn.
  4. Adaptive leadership requires both collaborative relationships and navigating resistance. Today’s leader can no longer go it alone. Successful change is not achieved until the leader has survived the inevitable sabotage.
  5. Finally, everyone will be changed, especially the leader. Survival comes when the leader is willing to allow people to speak into his or her life that previously have gone unheard.

If Bolsinger’s book was important in 2015, it is invaluable in 2021. If you’re an organizational leader who is looking to lead into the dynamic future instead of being content with the static present, this book is a must read.

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Would You Like to Get Well?

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Jesus asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” (John 5:5-8, NLT)

John chapter 5 opens with a curious story about a man who had been been disabled for 38 years lying by a pool of water. Evidently there was a phenomenon of miraculous healing power associated with the pool, for randomly an angel would come and “trouble” the water, and whoever could get into the pool first would be healed of their physical malady. There was a crowd of people there around the pool, waiting for that opportune time. Suffering has lots of company. Apparently there was no numbering system like we have at the DMV that would order the crowd into a “now serving number 231” kind of system. If you could be first, you would reap the benefits.

Of all the people who were crowded around the pool, Jesus took note of this particular man. Jesus directed a very important question to him and him alone. “Would you like to get well?” Now that question required a simple yes or no response. One would assume that the man’s response would have been a no brainer. But instead of saying “yes,” the man began to do what many often do. He made excuses and affixed blame. He blamed others for not attending to his needs, and he blamed a system that was put in place that made the playing field not level. In today’s culture he might have said, “It’s not fair,” or “I’m not lucky.”

Jesus, patiently listened to the excuses, and then told him to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk. I imagine that the thought must have flashed in the disabled man’s mind, “I can’t do that.” The thing about Jesus is that he will always ask us to do something we cannot accomplish on our own. But this flash of doubt was erased as the man experienced total healing. It wasn’t gradual, it was immediate. He dutifully rolled up his mat and began walking, when he is then confronted by the religious leaders for violating the Sabbath by carrying his mat. He defended his action, explaining that a man had healed him and told him to pick up his mat and walk. The religious leaders inquired who would do such a thing. And, “the man didn’t know” (John 5:13).

Legalism and religion will always find something wrong with the miraculous work that God is doing in your life. It’ll be the wrong day, like the Sabbath, or the wrong way, like not getting into the pool, or achieve the wrong outcome, like carrying your mat. That principle was true over and over in the ministry of Jesus, and one would think that 2,000 years later it would change. But it has not.

The story concludes with the man in the Temple. Jesus, who found him at the pool now finds him in the Temple. Wholeness will take you places your brokenness will never take you. And in that moment you can be open to the deeper work of God in your life. “Now you are well, stop sinning” (John 5:14). Many times our obvious problems are merely symptoms of more significant internal issues within our lives. To the naked eye, the man was disabled. In this instance, the divine eyes of Jesus saw something internal that no one else could see. The man thought his problem was his disability that confined him to a mat for nearly four decades. But without the internal healing of forgiveness and wholeness, nothing that really mattered would have changed. It’s the internal disability that either keeps us on the mat, or causes us to return to the mat time and time again. You may not be able to change how you got on the mat, but you don’t have to stay on it.

Categories : Change, Jesus, John
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The #1 Enemy of Change

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Welcome to 2021. For most of us, it couldn’t get here fast enough. This past year was tough of many. Individuals, family units, businesses and churches all faced struggles they had never before experienced. The sunrise of the New Year brings cautious optimism as we contemplate what we want and need in the upcoming weeks. Some of us will have aspirations and make resolutions, half of which will be abandoned by the end of January. Others will formalize goals, complete with action plans and deadlines for achievement. But without maintaining the rigors of daily, incremental steps toward those goals, these too will be unaccomplished.

We are generally comfortable with the idea that we are not perfect, and the largest room in the house is the room for improvement. Herein lies the challenge. I have always identified with the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:15-16, where he said, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Sound familiar?

The number one enemy of change, in my opinion, is ambivalence. Ambivalence sees both the reason to change and the reason not to change simultaneously. It is wanting and not wanting something at the same time, or wanting both of two incompatible things. People who are stuck in ambivalence live in the language of “yes, but.” It’s a bit like having a committee inside your head with members who argue back and forth about the proper steps forward. In short, ambivalent people “want to want to change.” I think you’ll agree, ambivalence is a pretty rotten place to be stuck.

The good news is that ambivalence is a normal process on the pathway to change. If you’re ambivalent about a change you need to make in the coming year, well, welcome to the human race. Miller and Rollnick, in their book Motivational Interviewing, offer seven steps out of the muck of ambivalence, the first of which is DESIRE. It is the language of wanting. Next is ABILITY, where one assesses their own ability of achieve the change that is desired. Next comes SPECIFIC REASONS, where a person lists all of the positive outcomes that could be possible in the change is implemented. The fourth step is NEED, where the process shifts from “I want” to “I need.” This transition affixes a sense of urgency.

Step five is COMMITMENT, which begins to signal the possibility of action toward the change. This step is most easily identified by promise making and the solicitation of accountability. Next to last is ACTIVATION, which bridges the commitment to the final step toward action. Activation uses words like “willing” or “ready.” The final step is ACTION, where the person begins to take the necessary steps toward making the change. Action could be something as simple as purchasing a FitBit all the way to checking oneself into a treatment center.

In summary, the likelihood of change is small unless the above steps are taken in order. For the apostle Paul, he recognized as much in his struggle. He carries his struggle in Romans 7 to an important question. Romans 7:24 states, “Oh, what a miserable man I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Notice he didn’t write, “What will free me.” His question is “who,” and the answer is the person of Jesus Christ (7:25). He realized that he did not have the ability to accomplish the needed and necessary changes in his life without the help of a power that is greater than himself. That is the power he needed, and that is the power I need myself.

Categories : Change, New Year
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