June 10th, 2010

I run regularly.  Since my knees are deteriorating, I’m experimenting with new ways to reduce the shock to my joints.  I’ve learned that barefoot (flat-footed) running actually produces less impact than standard heel-toe running in athletic shoes.  I’ve been running for several weeks using a gentler, flat-footed style, and I’ve had some good results (less knee pain, building distance, increasing speed).  But this new style is incredibly uncomfortable, and I’m tempted to abandon it.

Each time I run I find myself tensing up my shoulders and hands.  I can’t relax, and it takes all my concentration just to keep my rebellious feet from going back to their old habits.  When my mind wanders, I slip back into a heel-toe rhythm, with damaging long-term effects (sore knees, fewer runs, knee surgery).

I have a couple of clients who are trying new moves in their leadership.  Those new moves are proving uncomfortable for them.  One is trying to be less controlling and give his team more freedom to choose priorities and solve problems on their own.  Another is trying to be more assertive, making necessary but unpopular decisions without consensus from all her team members.

Both of these leaders are in danger of slipping back into old, comfortable rhythms. The first is tempted to start digging into the details of his subordinates’ work, fearing they must be hiding important information.  The second is tempted to second-guess her decisions when she encounters the (predictable) opposition.  If they slip, their organizations will suffer.

What can we do to preserve our gains and keep moving forward?

Burn the Ships. When Cortez landed in Mexico, he burned (well, actually scuttled) his ships to ensure there was no way his men could back out of the plan to conquer the Aztecs.  With our leadership moves, however, “burning the ships” isn’t as tangible.  We need to find ways to make it more likely that we will make good choices, day after day.  Both of my clients have told their teams about their new moves, expressed their commitment, articulated the reasons why their old moves weren’t working, and asked to be held accountable.  Those actions require courage, and they create support systems that pull leaders forward when they are tempted to turn back.

Get Feedback. Without insights from someone who has gone before us down our new path (a mentor or role model), or someone who can help us get where we want to go (a coach), we’re on our own.  We can muddle through as rugged individualists, but that isn’t our only option.  Coaching is helping my clients run with better form.

Measure Results. I’ve been encouraging my clients’ team members to clarify for their leaders how those new behaviors are contributing to the organization’s success.  Clearly seeing the benefits of new moves helps leaders overcome the discomfort.

Run Faster. This one may seem counter-intuitive, but running more, and running faster, allows us to get through the discomfort quicker.  The more we practice our new moves, the more adept we become, and the more natural the behaviors feel.

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13 Responses to “Uncomfortable”

  1. Burning the ships is my favorite method–both personally and professionally. If you can convince your client to do that, you certainly have won a monumental victory in gaining their trust. Now, the trick is, you are Cortez… were you that confident in your plan? I presume the answer is yes, but it’s a good self-check before someone tosses that match.

    And, if you’re knees hurt that bad, try swimming.

  2. “Scuttled.” heh.

  3. You are right on. Measuring results is very important, and sometimes the improvement may be slow. It is important to give a plan time to show the desired improvements.

    Watch feedback. Sometimes it is not productive or helpful. Naysayers need to be avoided.

  4. Good insights, Chip. On running and leading. There is a serious drop off point in any change in life right here where you must jump off the cliff of ‘habit’.

    I have some of the same issues running and it strikes me that it’s the repetition of the same moves over years that causes damage. That’s true in leadership and so many things. Change is growth, and you get how to do it.


  5. Counter-intuitive, but spot on:  Run Faster. I love it!

    I’m wondering how to make this work with a team that’s experiencing the pain of change? Running faster may look like a lack of empathy or carelessness, etc, and many organizational cultures are not built to “run faster” …

    • Roz, I think the key is for leaders to “run faster” in the new behaviors they’re trying out (use the new moves more). This may be a different pace than the overall change initiative. In an organizational change, leaders must wisely choose an appropriate pace for implementation– which may depend on many factors (organizational change readiness, organizational experience with change, magnitude of the change, cost of maintaining the status quo, etc.) And of course, what feels fast to some may not feel fast at all to others!

  6. Chip, interesting insights. To which I’d add the impotance of clarity. I worked for a leader once who was leading us in change and announced “We have to do more with less.” I heard it as a resource argument, which sounded illogical. How can you do more with less? You do more with more, not less. So I had trouble getting on the bus and silently and wrongly stonewalled the change movement. What he really meant was “We need to be more efficient. Eliminate activity that does not add value for customers.” The change movement was really about efficiency, productivity and process reduction. But it was not clear initially.

    • Terry, I couldn’t agree more. So often leaders think they are being clear about many elements of their organizational changes (timing, reasons, tasks, responsibilities, impact, vision) but if you ask 10 different leaders involved in the change, you may get 10 different stories (or a bunch of blank stares). Unity and clarity are potent force multipliers.

  7. Wonderfully stated, Chip! Second guessing will definitely slow you down.

  8. Chip,

    Interesting thoughts about running. As a former runner, I can say it is difficult to find something that gives that same type of high. Perhaps that is the same with changing leadership styles too…looking for a different type of high in the way one leads. Changing the intention of why one leads.

    Nice thoughts. Although, ‘center is the new fast.’ The amount of work done is not about speed. In my experience fast frequently ends up with a slower long term result.

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