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You're Scaring People
My Reflections
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June 6, 2011

Question/Topic in focus: Scaring people is part of the process


Change is goodI'm in the middle of teaching a course titled Growing Disciples Intentionally at Western Seminary. The below insights from a few well-respected researchers at Harvard Business School seem to have struck a chord with my fellow disciples.


Summarizing, the researchers differentiate technical from adaptive change. Technical change is the outside change, what takes place 'on paper.' Adaptive change is the internal hoops we jump through in order to embrace the technical change.


In the end, the researchers assert people are not afraid of change. No, that part is okay. The scary part, the findings show, is the loss of something: pride, control, power, face, and so on. So, if you've ever shared an idea with another person only to be shut down, read on.


You're Scaring People
Excerpted from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky (Harvard Business Press)


"There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least the individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be "dysfunctional" in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon. As our colleague Jeff Lawrence poignantly says, "There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to get the results it currently gets" (2009:17).


"When you exercise adaptive leadership, your authorizers will push back, understandably. They hired you...or authorized you...and now you are doing something else: you are challenging the status quo, raising a taboo issue, pointing out contradictions between what people say they value and what they actually value. You are scaring people. They may want to rid of you and find someone else who will do their bidding" (2009:26).


"You know the adage 'People resist change.' It is not really true. People are not stupid. People love change when they know it is a good thing. No one gives back a winning lottery ticket. What people resist is not change per se, but loss" (2009:22).


My Reflections

Magnifying glass
I've been conveying unpopular ideas for at least a decade. Here's some of what I've learned.


  • Like fish, people tend to want to stay in "schools" of thought, something akin to jumping on the bandwagon; with numbers comes social safety
  • Most people haven't done their research, so they rely on the research of others; if so-and-so says it's true, then it must be
  • Thought leaders usually have a monetary (power/safety) reason to keep things just as they are
  • Our culture values winning over truth; thus, the purpose of an argument is to rest one's case, not lose it
  • People are tired and stressed; changing anything requires work
  • People often listen because they know when you're done talking, they can immediately forget whatever gibberish you just floated into the atmosphere, and move on with life
  • In this information age, my view is one of thousands, even millions; thus, unless my view corresponds to a noticeably different/changed life, my view will likely fall on deaf ears


People want change. They do. But it's difficult these days for people to differentiate what's real from counterfeit. Each time I pick up my home phone, for instance, I wonder if I'll be greeted by a telemarketer. I've been trained to put up my guard, and rightly so. The same is true in the "church" world. We've been sold/told so much for so long, people have grown leery, even emotionally exhausted. Because of this, the status quo has earned some merit. It might not be perfect, many reason, but at least we're not hurting anyone and it feels right. Don't get me wrong. Change needs to happen. But if we want lasting change, we can't only address the technical issues, we've got to address the adaptive issues as well.



As always, The Banqueting Table hopes this was of some benefit to you.


Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table

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The Banqueting Table does not necessarily endorse the contents of all videos, papers, or websites linked above. As with all information, please test everything you read and hear against the Scriptures.