09 Nov

Be the river not the rock

‘Let things flow naturally’ – Lao Tzu 

I recently coached a leadership team through a struggle they were experiencing while leading a pretty significant organisational change.  

Like many of my clients, gearing up for the new normal means moving to a much more adaptive way of working, and for many traditional businesses this means asking leaders to work – and lead – in ways that they have never done before. 

It’s deeply uncomfortable (and frankly a little bit scary) until your head is in the right space.

This organisation was looking to shift from a highly stable, traditional leadership model to one that was more fluid, and they were struggling to find the right frame to help their leadership team to make this transition work.

There was a collective sense at the top that the leaders needed to be the constant among all this change. The idea came from the right place, but was having the wrong impact.

They were being rocks.

  • One thing a rock does is stand still.  Many ‘rock’ leaders stand still too, letting the change wash over them, and then (hopefully) go on its way.
  • Another thing a rock leader is known for is being resistant. This uses immense, but ultimately futile energy.  The grand canyon is a good example of how resistance turned out for the rock….
  • Eventually, rocks get worried loose.  They get caught in the current and tumbled along.  That’s the moment this group in particular feared the most – that sense of being out of control.
  • Some had already passed that fearful milestone, and were feeling eroded, tired out and worn down.

None of these ‘rock’ states are helpful for a leader or their teams today.  The river always finds a way.  The rock goes from immovable to resistant, to getting thrown around, then becomes eroded and is finally ground into sand.  

Ironically, it is the rock that changes state.  The river remains fluid. 

It’s not the rock that is the constant, it’s the river.

Seeking to find (or to be) a constant when all is chaos is totally normal; it’s the method we adopt that makes us succeed or fail in that venture.

Are you being a river or a rock?

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