You're on a commercial airline and just before take off, the attendant stands in the aisle reviewing flight safety instructions.
Passengers are instructed that in the event the oxygen level in the main cabin becomes unstable, oxygen masks will drop in front of every passenger. Masks must be secured to passengers' heads using the elastic band while breathing normally. Passengers are further instructed to ensure that their masks are secure first before assisting other passengers or children. In case of turbulence, seat belt lights come on and passengers are instructed to stay seated and to remember that the seat cushions double as flotation devices when needed.
Many of us know these instructions by heart. Hopefully, they are so ingrained through repetition that we execute flawlessly, should the need arise.
A few years ago, I was honored to co-lead a retreat for faith-based, not-for-profit organizational leaders. These folks were in the midst of navigating the challenges and opportunities of leadership in between a recession and a recovery.
Stealing 24 hours away from the stress of organizational anxiety, serious and difficult decisions, budget cuts, layoffs and other recessionary strategies, these leaders came together to recharge, rejuvenate and inspire each other. We invited them to get into the "flow of slow" for the short time we shared and to unplug from daily demands as best they could.
We distinguished between the kind of change that happens to us and the kind of change we create. We challenged ourselves by asking questions about the nature of change. We wondered:
- Is change a solution? Is it a problem? Can it be both?
- Is it constant?
- Is it just something different than what we expect?
- Does it have to be chaotic and destabilizing?
- Can change be good for us?
- Is it inevitable?
- What causes resistance?
- How can we introduce change that is irresistible?
- How can we increase our adaptability?
- Do we have to destroy what's really great about our organizations to implement change?
- Are there other ways we can deliver our mission?
- How can we ensure that our mission is fulfilled?
- Can we introduce change in a more respectful, uplifting and positive way?
- How can we preserve and leverage our organization's unique culture in the process of introducing change?
- How can we ensure sustainable improvements with each change?
We spent considerable time engaged in dialogue around these types of questions only to discover what we already knew. There is no attendant standing before us instructing us and demonstrating what we need to do in the event of such turbulence. We do not know the instructions by heart. And leaders tend to help those in their organization secure their oxygen masks and activate their flotation devices, without first taking the time to do those things for themselves.
We hoped that our retreat would offer our guests the gift of a little time to secure their own oxygen masks and breathe slowly and deeply. We hoped that they would come to appreciate that they are not alone in this turbulence and that there is great power in coming together in calm, sane conversation with a group of trusted colleagues.