Today, President Obama signed into law a bill that reforms America’s health care system. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you may occupy, this is significant change. We’ll leave the political debate to another time and place. I’d like to talk about change and our relationship to it.
Most of us would say that change is good. And, still most of us don’t like to change. We change constantly when we are younger without even thinking about it. We change physically, cognitively, emotionally, and psychologically as we age and learn. As we get older, we become settled and more and more resistant to change. We like things the way they are. We become comfortable. We know where everything is. This is a precarious mindset to maintain in today’s world. It is a dangerous mindset for leaders.
Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers said recently, “Change is great when it happens to somebody else. When it happens to us, it makes us uncomfortable. And yet, countries, companies or individuals who do not change will be left behind.” Truer words were never spoken. So what is Chambers saying? I believe he is calling us to be uncomfortable. If we want to be leaders in this new economy we need to look for ways to lead change and not react to it. We need to recapture the openness and curiosity of youth and be willing to be uncomfortable.
I hear many people I work with talk about wanting to find balance. Balance is easy when we are standing still. It is much more difficult when we are moving. In life and business today, we are almost never standing still; and if we are, that means someone is passing us by. I counter that we should not seek balance; we should seek to get better at the act of balancing while we keep moving forward. We don’t have the luxury of standing still.
I’m not advocating change for change’s sake. I am saying that we must always examine the status quo with open eyes and a willingness to push ourselves and others out of our comfort zones to produce positive change. The mindset that serves us best when it comes to change is the mindset of openness and curiosity. This is the mindset of ongoing learning. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t leading.
Leadership is not about having all the answers all the time. Leadership is about gathering the right people and harnessing the right resources to create positive change. When leaders do this, they are in no danger of being “left behind.” On the contrary, they are out in front, embracing change, managing the correlative anxiety of uncertainty, and dealing with their own discomfort in order to help others with theirs. There is an amount of discomfort associated with any change. If we are to lead, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.