David E. White - Consultant, Synergy Solutions Group
Successful organizational change requires individuals to change. This three-part series examines barriers that we humans encounter that block our will to change. The first col- umn discussed how feeling overwhelmed can inhibit change by causing paralysis.
Another even more difficult barrier is entrenched habits and routines: “We have always done it this way.” Habits can be addictive. It may seem melodramatic to list addiction as a change barrier in an organization, but consider its definition: “The condition of being habitually occupied with, dependent on, or involved in something.” Some habits are healthy and make up the foundations of great systems. However, we can be addicted to behaviour patterns that have become part of our self-image and which limit our freedom to change.
Wayne (not his real name) is a creative guy. He runs a small company that provides contracted services on successful ten- ders. Wayne is constantly delivering the tenders within min- utes of the deadline. Wayne’s friends and coworkers would describe him as a nice guy, but also as feeling perpetually pres- sured by deadlines. Wayne is addicted to stress; it is his nor- mal. Stress makes Wayne feel productive. If he tries to relax, he feels lazy and unproductive. Changing will be particularly dif- ficult for Wayne because, even though he might understand the need to do things differently, it does not feel right to him.
Although “Bob” has a manager to run his business, he can’t help becoming involved in the details. He will agree to a plan and then undermine it by dealing directly with suppliers and employees, offering them concessions and blurring the chan- nels of communication, responsibility and authority. While he knows that his behaviour is hurting his business, Bob needs to feel liked. Granting concessions makes him feel benevolent and admired and he is dependent on this behaviour for his iden- tity. He is addicted.
In his book Addictions and Grace, Dr. Gerald G. May helps us understand the true impact of how addiction inhibits the freedom of human desire. Dr. May illustrates how the physical matter of our brains creates cellular representations of who we come to believe that we are through our memories, knowledge and experiences. From this we establish our normal. We become attached to our behaviours and they come to rule our lives.
Wayne and Bob may acknowledge a benefit to change. They may even hire people to help them navigate change, but until they understand their attachment and discover a release from the connection between their behaviour and their iden- tity, they will continue to experience inhibitions to their will to change.
Author and founder of Brain State Technologies, Lee Gerdes informs us that the human brain is an incredible instrument of self-preservation. When we incur trauma or a threat to self in life, the brain sets up sympathetic or parasympathetic responses (fight, flight or freeze) to ensure our survival. While these responses may initially serve us well, they can also become deeply-entrenched habits that ultimately leave us stuck in a rut and unable to change. Gerdes suggests that “individu- als tend to lack the willpower to engage in the difficult and often ongoing struggle to change an entrenched pattern of behaviour.”
May states that “addiction is not something we can simply take care of by applying the proper remedy, for it is the very nature of addiction to [thwart] our attempts to master it.” In other words, change threatens the self-preservation initiatives established by our brain.
Addictions (attachments) are essentially our mind’s way of coping with life. In their unhealthy state they compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and unworthiness. To move in the direction of health, we must first recognize our attachments and the manner in which they limit our will to change.
To change an organization, change must first happen within the leader and for that to happen, leaders must possess the abil- ity to step outside their self and become an objective observer of their own behaviours.
Meditation, silent retreats and mindfulness coaching can provide great benefits here. There have been significant dis- coveries related to the functioning of the brain in recent years. A new form of treatment arising from these discoveries is brainwave optimization, created by Gerdes and Brain State Technologies. You can find information about this treatment at brainstatetech.com.
The ability to objectively observe our own behaviour pro- vides two key benefits for leaders. One, we are able to discover the attachment-based habits that limit our personal will to change. Two, we are able to better understand the limits to change within the employees of our organization, and there- fore, the organization itself.
It will take time, effort and resources to remove the inhibitions to our will for change. We must come to a place where we believe that we, our families and the people we serve, are worth it.
David E. White is a consultant with Synergy Solutions Group.
Questions and comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.