Navigating Change

Navigating Change

And the seasons, they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We're captive on the carousel of time

We can't return, we can only look

Behind, from where we came

And go round and round and round, in the circle game

Joni Mitchell “The Circle Game”


Change is constant, the world is always moving and evolving. I know that, but when I am living through a time of dramatic change like now – it can be hard to keep from sinking. Joni Mitchell captured her thoughts in 1970 when she wrote her song about change during another particularly tumultuous time in the world. Somehow knowing that what I am currently experiencing is part of the time-old “circle game” helps me navigate through change and provides a glimmer of hope that keeps me moving.

The seasons are a great metaphor for this constant flow of change we all experience. We can’t control the seasons, but we can work with the gifts that each season brings, learning and building in a natural order and pace. This concept is the foundation of the Seasons Leadership Program. Our spring session focuses on awakening the leader within and transitions to a summer used to cultivate an elevated leadership presence. Into fall we look at integrating leadership growth into a path forward and winter is about pursuing that individual leadership style, appreciating where growth has led and preparing for the next cycle of transformation and self-actualization.

I remember going through an intense cycle of growth when I was promoted to senior manager. Until then, I had increasing leadership responsibility for projects, and was a subject matter expert, but I was not directly responsible for a team. At that point, I did not know what I did not know – but I was enthusiastic! I was in the springtime of my management career. I grew into the role with each experience building on the next. With each cycle of growth, I became stronger,more confident and a more effective leader overall. This process took years, with some seasons taking longer than others, but having the metaphor of the seasons in mind helped me understand that there are cycles we all go through, and I can leverage those cycles of growth. From these experiences I have learned four strategies for how to successfully navigate change:

·      See and accept reality

·      Focus on what is in my control

·      Take care of my mind, body, spirit

·      Connect with my trusted network

The first thing I learned is to see and accept my current reality with as much clarity as possible. Most times, this is hard. It feels better to believe it is summer in the middle of winter. But, not accepting reality doesn’t work, no matter how much we wish it would. I have learned this lesson the hard way – more than once unfortunately. A good example is one of the first projects I had as a new senior manager. I believed I had a good handle on an assignment to implement a new communication process and felt we could get it done quickly. My desire for expediency caused me to ignore the reality of the importance of involving the corporate communications representatives responsible for overall communication processes. I wanted to believe they wouldn’t care what we were doing, but I of course was wrong. This experience taught me to see and seek out the stakeholders and people who are affected in different ways during a change for the best outcome possible.  

The next strategy is to decide what is in my control and to focus on that. In some cases, change comes from a new challenge that forces us to change ourselves, but it also can come from outside pressures too. I find the key to moving forward is to spend time and energy where I can make a difference. During this past year there have been a lot of circumstances outside of our control. While following the guidelines our governments are mandating to keep the virus under control, I choose to spend my energy working on expanding the Seasons Leadership Program into a virtual program of leadership excellence. This mindset shift helped me realize an opportunity to bring the benefits of our program to more people. When we remember we have agency within change our actions are more targeted and effective.

As we lead with care for the people affected and the outcome, we must remember that we have the responsibility to bring our best self to a change. To show up as the leader we intend, we need to take care of our minds, bodies, spirits. I take care of my mind by connecting within myself and aligning my values, thoughts, feelings and actions in a positive direction. When I am focused and aligned, my emotions and inner critics don’t get the best of me. I take care of my body by sleeping, eating right and walking. Spiritually I connect to a higher power through time in nature and meditation to get inspired and remember why I am here. Remember, showing up as the leader we need to be requires us to take care of ourselves because how we are feeling impacts our response to change and shapes the shadow we cast.  

Finally, I reach out to my trusted network of friends, family and colleagues so that I can respond to any change with choice and not in fear or reaction. There is no surer way to fail than to be so self-conscious or embarrassed or arrogant to not ask for help.  

I am grateful to have Debbie in my trusted network. There were times at the beginning of the pandemic when I felt fearful about the pandemic’s impact on the Seasons Leadership Program. She provided a different perspective and together we were able to talk through the issues and create a positive response to a challenging situation.

Change is constant. The one thing I know for sure is that whatever is happening today won’t be here forever. This goes for the good things as well as the bad but if we look to the seasons, we can see a metaphor for how to keep growing and transforming ourselves positively through it all. Our Seasons Leadership program is designed to embrace the energy each season brings leveraging the natural cycle of growth.  

If you are interested in more insights about navigating change, visit our Women in Leadership podcast show page and click on episode 8: You can also listen to the podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcast. Debbie and I go into more detail on how to support your team through change. Another resource that I have found useful in taking care of myself during times of change is Reflection Circles: Reflection Circles is an online resource focused on creating high impact tools and training for facilitating reflection in groups – to build perspective and energy to turn self-awareness into self-actualization.

While we are “captive on the carousel of time” we are not frozen in place. If we take the time to see our reality and focus on what we can control we will see all the ways we can positively influence change and grow. If we learn to take care of ourselves and our mindset, we can win the circle game.

Susan Ireland draws on 30+ years of leadership experience in corporations to help people positively impact the world. As an ICF-Certified Professional Coach, Susan works with executives, entrepreneurs and leaders at all levels to enhance their leadership and business acumen, encourage self-discovery and turn challenges into positive results. Her belief in the unique value of individuals and appreciation for the wonder and awe of their journeys inspires enduring, transformative change.

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