Taking Chances to Lead Change in the 21st Century: Why It’s Cool Not to Be So Cool

Guest post from Julie Benezet:
The internet changed all the rules.
Life has always
had its challenges when new things showed up, but most of the time we thought
we could handle them. While we didn’t love dealing with adversity, because we knew
the people and situations involved, things seemed under control, familiar, . .
. comfortable. At least that’s what
we thought.
Then came the
internet. With its global reach and instant transmission of vast amounts of
information, we find ourselves living in a fast, hyperconnected world.
Relentless change has become the norm. People, situations, and places we don’t
know can have a direct impact on our lives, significantly altering the
competitive landscape.  So much is
unknown, and the new is everywhere–new technology, new economic models, new
politics, new cultural norms, and new products and services. Much feels unpredictable,
out of our control, . . . uncomfortable.
What does this have to do with
leadership?  Everything.
The job of a leader,
whether of a large corporation or small project team, is to discover new ideas
to make life better for their customers, workforce, and communities. Then they
have to convince others to join them
in testing those ideas. The role has not changed since the concept of leadership
was born. What has changed is the level of complexity, which is the gift and
curse of the internet.
The job of 21st century leaders
is to steer their organizations through the unknowns of the new toward a better
place, and to treat its scariness as an asset, not a liability.
The internet
introduced an infinite number of unknowns into business life. To succeed,
leaders must find new ways for their organizations to satisfy rapidly evolving market
and organizational demands. That involves experimenting with new concepts that carry
no guaranteed outcomes. It can be uncomfortable, but that is how change happens.
Trying out a new
idea is also awkward. Exploring its possibilities requires asking difficult
questions about issues others want to avoid, talking to people you barely know,
or suggesting fresh approaches that make them uneasy. Nevertheless, to create a
winning idea, you need to learn as much as you can about the stakeholders whose
lives you want to improve.
We work so hard in the 21st century
to be cool, acting as if we know it all, but being cool rather than risking
awkward conversations could cost us opportunities.
Charting a Course toward New
Possibilities

Traveling on the road of discovery to realize new ideas requires taking chances. It is lined with uncertainty and reasons for turning back. Nevertheless, leadership calls for forward movement.

The Journey of Not Knowingâ sets forth four principles that provide navigation lights through the discomfort of pursuing something new.

The Core Four:

1.  Dare to dream.
Choose
an idea you believe will move people to a higher plain. It could be a different
company communication culture to overcome people’s reluctance to give each
other valuable feedback. You could explore a new market outside of your core
business based on customer requests for help.
Or, you could find a different way to build teams, allowing team members
rather than managers to choose and evaluate their members.
A
dream often is something you’ve been ignoring, either because the underlying
problem deeply bothers you or you know it will be hard. If it scares you,
however, you probably are on the right track.
Once
you identify a dream, crystallize it by soliciting feedback from the people who
will benefit from it. 
2.  Get comfortable with the scariness of risk.
Adopt
a healthy attitude toward risk and its contribution to success. As you test new
ideas, much can go wrong.  Your friends,
colleagues, or customers might think the ideas are stupid, irrelevant, or
expensive.  If you lead a team, your
teammates might greet them with suspicion or annoyance.
Their
reactions could cause you anxiety, adding to an inner dialog already running through
your head about the possible consequences of your experiment: Will they laugh
at me? Will it fail? Will I lose my reputation, or my job over this?  Or, will they love it?
Nervousness
comes with the adventure of pioneering ideas. It is part of driving change. It also
signifies you are on the road to something better. Embrace discomfort as a
reminder to pay attention, learn from mistakes, and recalibrate as needed.

 

  
C.  Watch out for self-sabotaging behaviors.
Recognize that human beings are messy. That
includes leaders.
When leaders
try something new without knowing the outcome, the walls of resistance will
rise.  People react defensively to cope
with fear. Their reactions are normal.  Defenses
give people short term comfort but prevent achieving better things. The biggest
resistance, however, might come from you and stand in the way of your dreams.
Everyone
has defenses. They appear in many well-known forms: Micromanagement, personalizing,
and conflict avoidance top the list. To overcome their impact and return to the
quest for new ideas, start by recognizing when your defenses are triggered. Understand
their negative impacts. Then broaden your strategy to
support your mission.
D.  Find drivers to fuel your travel through
discomfort of the unknown
To
move through the discomfort on the road to new things, you need a purpose or
“driver” for traveling on it. Your purpose can be as simple as, “I so despise
that guy competing against us on this proposal that I will work with our frightening
analytics team who will assure a winning bid.”
The
strongest drivers arise from one’s values, life stories, and vision for the
future. The deeper you go, the more fuel they will give you.  Self-knowledge
is power. It means getting to know and accepting who you are, lending strength
and clarity as you face the discomfort of the new.
In short, it’s cool not to be so cool.
Successful leaders plunge into the awkwardness of the new to learn about
themselves and the needs of the people whose lives they want to make better. Their
reward is the thrill of making a difference.
Julie Benezet spent 25 years in law and business, and for the
past 17 years has coached

and consulted with executives from virtually every
industry. She earned her stripes for leading in the discomfort of the new as
Amazon’s first global real estate executive. She is an award-winning author of The
Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There
Is None
. Her new
book,
The Journal of Not Knowing, offers a self-guided discovery mission to
pursue one’s dreams and overcome the scariness along the way toward achieving
them.  She can be reached at
www.juliebenezet.com.