Pretending and Change Management, Part II

Imagination, or, pretending, is a gift and a powerful tool for all, including all in the workplace, leaders and work-group members alike.

I love (i.e., Learn-Do-Teach-Lead) imaginative and creative thinking.  (My must-reads include anything by Edward de Bono [see] and Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko [see], but the list of excellent resources in this area is rich and worth exploring in depth.)

For many, the maturity of adulthood has two effects: (1) we repress imagination or, at least, its expressions, and (2) we forget that we are pretending.

Both outcomes diminish us and, worse, can impair our ability to lead.  Of the two, the latter is more worrisome and potentially dangerous because it involves self-delusion.

Franklin University Professor Ross Wirth who, with colleague Dr. Timothy F. Reymann, leads the monthly Change Leadership Symposium, invited participants at the June 8, 2010, gathering to consider causes, effects, and remediation of resistance to change.

Wirth first outlined and then challenged a classic model in which change, initiated or directed by an outside force (the boss and any attendant authority, for example) acts upon others (members of the work group) to achieve some goal.

The model includes (1) reasons for resistance, (2) symptoms of resistance, and (3) curative responses to resistance.  It does not mention pretending, but this way of thinking is inherent in the model as I hope to point out.

Any list of the reasons why employees resist change can rapidly become lengthy (fear, lack of trust, threat to vested interest, possible loss of power, etc.), but I like the following reduction:

  • We want to hold on to what we like (grasping)
  • We want to avoid (a) what we don’t like or (b) the loss of what we do like (aversion)

Both mindsets resist change, and this is where pretending enters in:

  • We pretend that such a thing as “constancy,” “stability,” or “status quo” actually exists, and
  • We pretend that change is something we can control

Neither is true, although adopting these beliefs can help assuage our fears.

Science reveals that all things are in a constant state of flux and that “impermanent” better describes physical reality than does “solid,” “permanent,” or “fixed.”  That anything appears solid and stable is illusory, and we tend to believe–or be ignorant of–this illusion.  And this is a much an illusion as the belief that we can control, or manage, change in any absolute way.

Reasonable actions intended to increase the likelihood of achieving a certain outcome (call it “change management” if you like)  are just that only when we realize that we do not stand outside the change-system as some independent actor, and that all elements of the system are affected by infinite causes and effects, almost all of which are both unknown (and unknowable) to us and beyond our control.

Now what?  Is change management impossible, or, as I propose, a misnomer?  And, if so, what are we to do?

Growth Leadership

We like to believe that change has discrete boundaries, a beginning, middle, and end.  Change management projects do, after all.  And we like to believe that we can orchestrate change within an organization if only we would take the proper steps to reduce resistance and increase authentic engagement.

I’d like to let go of this pretended sense of control and step closer to (not over) the frothy edge of chaos by replacing “change management” with “growth leadership.”

Growth leadership and, by extension, a growth leader, recognizes that change is constant and actively involves all work-group members in continuous growth activities.

When inculcated within an organization, all work-group members personally adopt a growth leadership mindset.  Being continuously and actively engaged in growth activities (a discussion of which I will take up later in more detail), change arises organically.  Growth becomes to an individual and the organization alike as water is to a fish: it is simply the environment in which one lives.

Growth is continuous and incremental and, while it may for practical purposes culminate in a large change effort, that eventuality will seem, and be, completely natural by the time it arises.  Besides, the change effort itself will be–and be known to be–subject to growth.

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3 Responses to Pretending and Change Management, Part II

  1. Mike Meier says:

    To build on this: Change is not only constant, it is imperative if we hope to hold the line against entropy. Conscious change (+) to combat natural or inherrent change (-).

    Whether or not “change management” can be supplanted by a more evolved concept, we certainly must stop pretending that
    a. change is imposed from the outside
    b. change is planned or conscious
    c. change is to be feared
    This last is the most difficult because fear is the motivator for all of our negative responses to change. We must overcome fear to let go of the past and move toward the future, just as when we were learning to swim and needed to swim to the other side of the pool. The biggest step was to let go of the side of the pool, but there was no possibility of progress unless/until we did so.

    If leadership were about addressing fears, we would get farther faster and “change management” would become (once again) “management.”

    • erikjul says:


      What are some ways leaders can address fear in themselves and, if they are work-group leaders, within the members of the work group?

  2. Pingback: Index: Titles by Date | Learn-Do-Teach-Lead

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