By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th August 2022
My work, over the years, has taken me from enabling change in organisations, to teaching others how to do so, to coaching individuals for personal change. Facilitating any kind of change feels like a topic that is very much in my bones! So, coming across a new angle on how to deal with change is always a delight. The July-August issue of Harvard Business Review and the article by Furr and Harmon Furr1 provided me with just such an opportunity.
When uncertainty and opportunity are two sides of a coin
Change, any kind of change, and the uncertainty associated with it can be debilitating. Furr and Harmon Furr speak of fear – and this can be very real. Financial and personal safety can be at risk if the change involves significant organisational or individual upheaval. Even if there is not this kind of upheaval, change can make us feel vulnerable. Our response can be visceral.
The HBR article refers to both kinds of change: in particular those faced by entrepreneurs embarking on new ventures, or those for individuals that might draw on all of the skills they have developed in resilience.
What if we viewed change in terms of the opportunities that it presents?
(Note: I realise that I’ve transmuted Furr and Harmon Furr’s term ‘possibility’ to ‘opprtunity’. Choose whichever word feels right to you!)
This mindset has echoes for me of a model I’ve shared in the past: that of the victim, survivor and navigator2. As I shared, in that previous blog:
“Navigators …. are people who ’embrace’ change and explore what they can do to make it happen in a constructive way: tackling the issues, anticipating the risks, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come their way.”Goodman, E (2015)2
Furr and Harmon Furr had some wonderful tips for how we can adopt this opportunity, or navigator mindset; tips that stood out for me even though they were not all ones that they highlighted in their article.
I thought would explore each of them here:
- Grounding ourselves in what gives us stability in our lives
- Considering what’s important to us and then look for ways to make that happen
- Thinking about what risks we can tolerate, and things that we find more difficult – and starting with the first
- Expanding our capacity for tolerating risk
- Looking after ourselves
Grounding ourselves in what gives us stability in our lives
I and my coaching friends learnt recently that one of our colleagues, Nik Knight, had passed away, too young, too soon, from cancer.
Death, our own, and those of people who matter to us, is of course an inevitable aspect of life, a change to contend with over and over again.
What has helped to give me stability, in the context of Nik’s death, gives me stability, in the case of our friend’s death are the good memories that I built up through the connection that we had over the two and a half years that I knew her.
Every day or every other day, since learning of Nik’s cancer, I would send her a photograph of roses in my garden, in the village, in other villages nearby. As I ran out of roses, I found other flowers, trees, landscapes, pictures of the sea, that filled me with wonder or joy and shared these with Nik. Searching and sharing for these images taught me to look around me and at things more closely. That’s part of the stability too in the mindfulness that I experience from just being in nature.
What gives you stability in your life?
What keeps you grounded?
Considering what’s important to us and then looking for ways to make that happen
This tip for me is about two things:
- What’s important to us in life in general: sometimes referred to as our values
- What the ideal outcome would be for us when faced with some form of change
This for me is about taking ownership, mapping out what we do have control over in the face of uncertainty, and then taking action – rather than waiting for someone else to do that for us.
I pulled together this illustration of values based on those I was learning about on my coaching course with Barefoot3.
My coaching community is important to me, as are the closer relationships I’ve developed with many of the individuals within it.
And I have communities I am exploring around my love of nature and how we might still be able to care for it.
There are the relationships within my family and with other friends too, and the serenity I aspire to in shaping a life that has room for everyone and everything I care for.
So when I experience change, any change, these are the values I come back to. They act as a compass to help me steer through uncertainty.
So, for example, in my grief about Nik’s death, and how to respond to it, I chose to communicate about that with my coaching community, but also to turn inwards for some introspection and to access my serenity. Now I find that my reflections are influencing my creativity as I write this blog!
We are reflecting about how to honour Nik’s life, and the outcome I have articulated to myself, and to my colleagues, is to be able to share how Nik’s life touched each of ours. This might not be what we all decide to do in the end, but, having envisioned this for myself, I find I am already starting to do so here. I feel like I am modelling this tip!
What values would you pick from the list ? (Try to keep these down to no more than seven)
What change could you apply this thinking to?
What would be your ideal outcome for that change?
Thinking about what risks we can tolerate, and things that we find more difficult – and starting with the first
I realise, as did one of the authors of the HBR article, that I have an aversion to taking risks that might jeopardise my income. So although I was toying with the idea of starting my own business, RiverRhee for a couple of years before I did so. It was getting a redundancy package that gave me the courage to do so.
Similarly, I have a tendency to diversify: to look for more and more things that I can offer my clients. I like to be able to offer everything they might look for, and find it difficult to say ‘no’. This can result in dissipating my efforts on things that my heart isn’t fully into and so affecting my value of serenity! So, I’ve been making the transition to more of a focus on coaching in a gradual way. First I translated our training courses to a group coaching style approach and, more recently, reducing the number of group offerings to allow more time for one-to-one coaching.
Risks can be financial, reputational or emotional as with my two examples. They can be social, intellectual, physical and more.
What risks can you tolerate?
Which do you find more difficult?
How could you start with the easier ones?
Expanding our capacity for tolerating risk
I love this suggestion! Watching the divers during the recent European Games I remembered that, as a child, I used to dive off the highest diving board at my local pool, just to stretch my tolerance for what I might dare to do. I knew I could swim, and I knew that if I just pointed downwards, nothing fancy, I would hit the water in a way I could manage!
I certainly don’t crave high risk as an adult, but I will push myself out of my comfort zone in little ways for example:
- Learning the violin first in a local community music group, then with a tutor, and then starting to play in a beginners’ orchestra – being vulnerable about trying something new, and doing so in public. (Three years on and I’m still at it and loving it.)
- Signing my husband and myself up for sailing lessons at a ripe old age – taking a risk for how we would tackle a physical and mental challenge together. (It turned out well. We were both more or less terrified, especially the time we had to sail in so-called ‘moderate’ winds. I capsized the boat and we survived and had a good laugh about it. We were both physically exhausted and ravenous after each lesson. And we got our first level certificates.)
Are you already doing things that push you out of your comfort zone?
What risks could you take to stretch your tolerance?
Looking after ourselves
Change can be hard. Taking risks and having things not turn out as planned can be frustrating. We can feel scared, hurt and we can suffer.
Self-compassion is important.
I have needed time for introspection following the death of my friend.
I needed time to build up the courage to start up my business and later, to transition it to more of a coaching approach.
It’s OK to give ourselves breathing space, and then we prepare, we believe in ourselves, we make a small step, we reflect on what we can learn.
How do you look after yourself in times of change?
How do you make the first step towards what might be possible; what opportunities there might be?
- Furr, N. & Harmon Furr, S. (2022). How to overcome the fear of the unknown. Embrace the transformative power of uncertainty. Harvard Business Review, July – August pp.135-139
- Goodman, E. (February 26, 2015). From stoical survivor to natural navigator – strategies for proactive change programme managers. Retrieved from https://riverrhee.com/from-stoical-survivor-to-natural-navigator-strategies-for-proactive-change-programme-managers/
- Barefoot Coaching (2020) Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching. See https://barefootcoaching.co.uk/icf-accredited-coach-training/