Tales of Unicorns and Change Makers
[Article],  Leadership Skills

Tales of Unicorns and Change Makers

You want to change the world? Fantastic idea! So how would you want to start?

I for myself have taken the attempt several times. I am not sure if I have changed many things in the world, but I can tell, that my world has changed a lot since then.

For a long while I was chasing unicorns. Change was a wild creature of an amazing purity and grace. Like the horn of a unicorn, change was meant to be antitoxic, even having capabilities to awaken things from death. But I felt like I would never reach a level of expertise, which was of this purity, necessary to get hold of a unicorn.

Since then I have learned to accept that unicorns are legendary animals. Becoming a change maker is much more about reality than about pure, visionary thinking, and subject matter expertise:

Change can be everywhere

I still remember a commute, where a man – about ten years older than me – entered the train and took a seat next to me. Apparently he had a disability. He was moving and sitting down rather slowly.

Encouraged by a friendly smile I dared to approach him and to ask how he is doing. Happy about me making contact (but apparently uncomfortable due to his disability) the man started with excusing for speaking not very well – which was barely the case. Then he turned over to his story.

He started to tell about a crippling stroke, which had changed his live completely. Hit by this fateful event, it had taken him half a year to be able to articulate himself again. Now, one year later, he was still talking slowly, but I was able to understand him very well. It was admirable to see a pride in his eyes about what he had achieved since fate had turned against him.

The experience from the stroke seemed to create an aura of humanity. And I was surprised to perceive a big portion of strength as well, more than just fortitude. I felt that I had to tell him about my observation. His response was astonishing.

The man was happy to have the challenge to get back to life after the stroke. He would have a fair chance to recover – probably not completely, but to a major degree at least. Other than his previous life as manager, this was giving a real meaning to his life.

Yet, this seasoned manager – with a new, essential experience in life – explained, that he had affected the lives of many people. Often business goals and reorganizations had asked for dramatic changes. And even though, he always had been running for the intention to change things for the better. But his plans never really came true. Despite of all his thorough planning, the organizations did not really change from ground and the same issues came back to him again and again.

With his stroke the perspective had changed. Now, he was forced to accept that his life had changed dramatically. And even when he was able to recover, his objectives had become other ones than in his previous life. Now, his objectives were affecting him and not others anymore. And this gave a tremendous sense to what he was doing now. It was this kind of mindfulness, which created the aura of humbleness and humanity. This was an amazing experience of strength also for me.

Rather intentions than plans

It can be so difficult to drive change from plans, while you eventually get struck by an event, which enforces a major change you never planned for. At such moment things seem to be out of control. We feel puzzled, but can we tell if there is a good or a bad from control?

Usually we prefer to be in the driver seat. We have maximal trust in plans we create on our own. Studies show that people are up to four times more convinced about plans based on their choice, than about a plan assigned to them, even when probability of success is not better nor worse.

The complications we are observing when running for plans, arise from the need to convince others to follow our plans. While we are convinced to have the best plan, others barely share our conviction. The motivation for change does not come from our great plan, but the idea we are following. It is intentions. And everyone has its own ideas and intentions.

Still, others want us to bring plans. They would love to see a master plan, which solves all of their problems – just like magic. But those, who are running for perfect plans, are chasing unicorns. Their plans often arise from the wish for a status that hardly can be reached.

Change means adapting

Is it wrong to have plans? I would never say so. Plans capture ideas how things could be like. They provide a direction, help us to align views where we would like to be and discussions how we can get there.

Anyhow, plans do not implement change. They just describe actions, but not the effects. Plans stay pure and graceful unless they get real. By then the intended changes and effects become blurry and the feeling of being in control of everything turns into a imaginary fable.

A maiden taming a unicorn
The fable of the maiden taming the pure and graceful unicorn (click image for Wikipedia article)

We need to find other ways to follow up on change. Even when we know a plan is likely to fail, there needs to be a possibility to move on. We need to change our perspective.

“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.” ~Wayne Dyer

Everything starts with why

Plans come in place for good reasons. A change you want to achieve is formed from an initial idea. It is a kind of fiction, as your are talking about the future. So you start to tell the story of the change you would like to achieve. This is your plan.

A key to successful change is the story you want to tell – not the plan. Where the plan helps you to get started, it is the story, which takes you on. It is the purpose of your story, which helps you to keep a direction. It is the means you find on your way, which help you moving on with the story. And it is the acceptance of obstacles, which let’s you find alternative ways to tell your story.

While the initial plan start to become blurry over the time, the story has the power to stay crystal clear. It is just the way it is being told, which needs to change.

There are few principles I was following to become a successful change maker. They are not as easy going as you might wish. They are no advices. But if you start to understand them, you will find your way – I am 100% sure.

Keep on telling

When you are sincere about a change, always keep moving. Stagnancy is death for change. Your story has to go on.

Start by looking for changes. Any change is the friend of your change. As changes are happening all the time, you need to make them visible. When you have learned to become a good observer, you can make use of your observations to tell your story.

Experiences of people interwoven with a purpose can create a tremendous power. People will believe in experiences and hook on to the story. Believing has the power to destroy concerns. It is the basis for adaptive procedures based on principles rather than processes and rules. By then people are willing to follow new directions without questioning every single step.

It’s not about the others

Your means start with yourself. You do not have to look for others to take action when you want to change something. Start looking at change from what is affecting you and not, what you want to change for others.

As mentioned beforehand, everyone will have individual intentions and ideas. Even if the sense of urgency is given, which is the basis for the acceptance of a change, we cannot assume people will accept everything we tell to them as given. We need to give them choice at let them decide on their approach and contributions.

Being able to tell ‘Yes, it works for me is!’ will make a change. It is not only motivation for oneself, but also motivation for others with the same sense of urgency. It will make it easier for others to buy in into your activities and support you in making the change happening.

I have learned, that the attempt to change things for good will only work, if people find the right attitude towards the change. Do not try to change the things when people are not with you. It will discomfort them as long as they do not buy in.

“Things do not change; we change.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Acceptance is the virtue

In the end, what remains if people do not buy in into your story. If no one finds the right attitude towards the desired modifications, you will not be able to force it. You will have to accept the way things are.

Nonetheless, keep on telling. It is not about the others. Accepts that you have failed for the time being to involve people in a way that they found their choice and their attitude in the change. Accept that you did not find the key for the transformation. Change the way you tell your story and believe in your own intentions. If things start to work for you they cannot be that bad.

Even start to accept that the change you are looking for, might be not possible for now. Go small if necessary. Instead of doing the big bang, try to do a small step. Consider to do it for yourself and do not drown in desperation if things do not come true. There are always ways to move on.

Like the man in the train, we learn that change is always affecting ourselves. Noble thoughts about others are reflections of ourselves. My biggest change was the time, when I started to understand they power of acceptance – for myself and for others.

Acceptance is what we wish for ourselves and often deny for others.~Susan L. Taylor

The best thing one can do when it is raining, is let it rain.~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Change makers are not worried about the outcome as they know to accept whatever it will be. And in the end they even catch the unicorns 😉

Title: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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