“It’s much more fun to complain than change anything.”
“One must not hesitate to innovate and change with the times and the varying formations. The leader who stands still is not progressing, and he will not remain a leader for long.”
In 1903 the Russian Czar noticed a sentry posted on the Kremlin grounds for no apparent reason. Upon investigation it was discovered that in 1776 Catherine the Great noticed the first spring flower there. “Post a sentry here,” she commanded, “so that no one tramples that flower under foot.”
Traditions die hard because change is uncomfortable. As Mark Twain aptly observed, “The only thing that likes change is a wet baby.” Change requires us to adapt to new thinking, new paradigms and new behaviors. It requires us to leave the tranquil waters of the familiar as we sail toward the uncertainty of choppy seas further from shore. We are often fearful of change. Fearful that the cost of change may be too high, fearful of the loss of control or fearful of other unknowns. This fear can paralyze us as we are apprehensive to adopt new visions, new ideas or new procedures and all the while we are losing our effectiveness to speak to this generation.
Most of us find great security in the familiar, but change is a painful and certain fact of life in the 21st century. We live in a time unlike any other in which changes occur in quantum leaps. Who could have possibly imagined the political, social or economic environment of 2009 just a few short years ago? But change is a reality for countries, companies, families, individuals, churches and ministries. And the leaders that embrace this fact will have far greater strategic impact and organizational effectiveness.
Now while there is nothing wrong with traditions, organizations committed to traditionalism soon become irrelevant while maintaining the traditions of the past. Traditionalism speaks a language that the present culture no longer understands. How can we recognize if we’re in the danger zone?
1. We Begin to Worship our History
Of course we need a proper understanding, appreciation and respect for our history, but we must not worship it. William Barclay observed, “A church is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past, when it is more concerned with forms than with life; when it is more concerned with material than it is with spiritual things.” We lose our effectiveness when our memories are greater than our dreams. Make sure you’re looking through the windshield, not the rearview mirror.
2. We Are More Concerned With Forms Than With Function
Too often, organizations exist only as monuments to past glory. Like an aging athlete basking in the victories of yesterday, organizations can begin resting on past accomplishments and former deeds. If as a leader your goal is increased effectiveness, then you do not have the privilege to be provincial in your thinking, protective of your turf or perpetual in your methodology.
3. We Are More Concerned With Management Than With Effectiveness
In an effort to maintain our administrative regularity we become “gatekeepers” rather than “trailblazers.” We adopt a defensive rather than on offensive posture and by so doing we fail to impact the lives of those around us.
How many times have you heard a mid-level manager state, “It’s not company policy” as if that is the communication trump card? A company more concerned with policy (and ultimately itself) than it is with people, will soon find itself with far fewer customers.
4. We Substitute Motion for Direction
As Eddy Ketchursid wisely stated, “If your horse is dead, for goodness sake dismount.” Too often we are guilty of turning up the heat on the activity level in an effort to replace our lost enthusiasm or intensity. Activities are no substitute for passionate, purposeful direction.
Soren Kierkegard, the 19th century Danish religious philosopher, tells the story about a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks would waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fence can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds.” All the ducks shouted “AMEN!”…and they all waddled home.
Change is never easy nor is it a smooth process. It is chaotic and even intimidating and the transition has the potential to either launch an organization to the next level or cast it into the deepest pit. Wise leaders look for change, manage it and lead their people and organization through it.
Stay the Course,
Dr. Greg Morris