Why Change is Dangerous to Your Leadership

Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book with the brilliant title: Wherever You Go, There You Are.

The point of that title is that you cannot escape or alter your fundamental way of being by running away from what is in front of you.

You can alter your external circumstances to your heart’s content, and make it your life’s work to eliminate all of the things that you cannot be with — but at the end of the day, you are still there and the stuff that you cannot be with has not changed.

Your underlying way of the being — that is to say, your leadership — will only change if you address it, instead of the circumstances around you.

This tendency to look to change our external circumstances poses a significant problem for leaders of organizations hoping to create an incredible experience of life and unreasonable success in their business and on their teams.

It’s not just problematic. It’s seductive.

Change is seductive, because it creates novelty, and high-performers crave novelty. 

Novelty is that feeling you get in the first three months of a new relationship.

It’s the feeling you have in the first three months of stepping in to a new career position.

It’s that feeling that keeps everyone coming back to the gym, absolutely certain of their commitment, in the first three weeks of January.

The novelty of change provides two illusions that impede the real growth that an executive is called forth to create in their organization.

First, it puts a leader’s attention on external factors. It has the leader look out there to see what isn’t working, rather than turning their attention first inwardsto identify how everything around them is a reflection of the way they are showing up as a leader.

Second, the novelty of change masks the first truth. The first three weeks or months after a change will almost inevitably feel positive, and like it’s a change for the better. 

Everything has shifted. Things are different. 

There’s a new commitment and you’ve taken action towards it. 

You’ve changed those external circumstances, now let’s watch things soar!

But, predictably, if you haven’t done the internal work, it’s only a matter of time before your leadership (the good, the bad, and the ugly) reasserts itself and recreates the same problems.

The problem with novelty is that it felt so damn good when you made that change, and for that initial honeymoon period, things really seemed to be changing for the positive.

The conclusion most leaders draw is “the change was in the right direction, but just wasn’t quite enough. Let’s try it again”.

Repeating the same action and hoping for a different result is not the mark of game-changing leadership.

I’m not suggesting that change isn’t important — in fact, making changes to the external circumstances is an integral aspect of being a leader.

The point is that looking externally before you go inwards, is not only problematic, but addictive.

This isn’t any different than the serial monogamist who keeps dating new women, hoping that they’re eventually going to find the one where there’s never any conflict. The conflict isn’t the problem — it’s the person’s relationship to that conflict.

Are you continually making changes without creating the results and the velocity you want? It’s time to look inwards.