I’ve been reading a book recently called Canoeing the Mountains, by Tod Bolsinger. The focus is on Christian leadership in uncharted territory, and throughout the book he tells the story of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery. Their objective was to travel up the Missouri River in hopes that it would end up at the Pacific Ocean. They were highly skilled, motivated, and had past military successes that put them in this position of leadership and prepared them for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Midway though their journey, though, they came to the end of the Missouri. They expected this and picked up their canoes and began to climb the pass, expecting about a mile (or so) trek to get on the other side of the Great Divide and then they figured they would pick up the next river and would continue on. To their surprise, this is what they saw:
Everything they assumed was wrong. They came to a decision point. Either we turn around - or we change. We change our approach. We change our plans. And we definitely change the idea of carrying heavy hand-carved canoes over the pass. It ended up being 18 miles and took them over a month to get back on the water.
Can you imagine being in their position at this point? Everything they believed to be true was changed. Now they had to make a decision.
There are times in life, whether in leadership or family, where what we expected suddenly changes. At work, that may be change in leadership or a new boss, change in position and responsibilities, change in policy, change in team (people joining or leaving), and a host of other changes we deal with every day. At home, that may look like the addition of a new baby, the death of a parent, sibling, or spouse, change in job that results in a move, and that list can go on and on as well. We find ourselves looking at our situation that we didn’t expect (this wasn’t on my map!) and we are unprepared for.
Many times we want to just run away from it, and sometimes we do exactly that. But just like for Lewis and Clark, those mountains aren’t going anywhere - and neither will change.
As I have watched and learned from effective leaders in my life, there is one constant that I have found in them - they embrace change. They don’t run from it. They expect it. They anticipate change and they are ready for it when it happens. Effective leaders are agile in the face of change. They are not void of stress or struggle, but they find a way to change their attitude towards change in such a way that they seem to own it instead of change owning them.
In Ken Blanchard’s book, The Secret, he notes that effective leaders “Reinvent Continuously”. This is how he explains it:
Meaning: To possess a never-ending focus on improvement.
Principle behind the practice: Progress is impossible without change.
Single-word focus: Improvement
Caution: A failure to pursue and embrace new ideas leads to stagnation in people and organizations.
- As a leader, how do I need to change?
- What should my developmental focus be for the coming year?
- In what arena do I want a different outcome?
- What needs to change to make that desire a reality?
- What structural changes could be made to accelerate progress?
So I want to ask you today, how do you deal with change? Do you tend to avoid it - sometimes even run from it? Or are you willing to embrace it and lean into change?
Maybe you aren’t looking at a mountain of change in front of you today. Maybe life is going fairly smoothly. This is a great time to begin to flex your change muscles a bit. Deep dive into the important areas of your life and be curious. Is there anything I could do to improve? As a spouse, a parent, a friend, a leader - whatever role(s) you have - ask the people around you. Set the tone for continuous improvement by asking them - “I’m looking to improve as a ____________. I thought I would ask the person who is directly impacted by my leadership. What is one thing I could improve on that would make me a more effective leader for you?”
When you begin asking these types of questions, you give others the freedom to do the same. But it always starts with a leader.
I want to encourage you to see change as an opportunity moving forward. Here’s why: those mountains aren’t going anywhere. How you chose to navigate change (those situations and circumstances that were not on your map or plan) will determine much of what you will be able to say about your life in the end. So embrace it.
In your prayer life, ask, “God, if you had your way with this, what would you have me do? How would you direct my attitude? How should I deal with my fear and concerns about the unknown aspects of change?” He may not remove the obstacle, but He will guide you. It may be challenging on many different levels, but it is not void of purpose. God always uses our most challenging moments to grow us 1) closer in our relationship to Him, and 2) closer to the man/woman He created us to become.