99% of people believe it’s unsafe to be open and transparent.
That’s why we hide all thoughts and emotions which could make us look weak. That’s why we don’t share our hopes and dreams which could be discarded. That’s why we don’t ask questions of understanding when it could make us look incompetent.
But hiding behind a mask creates the opposite of intimacy: it creates separation. How does this affect you as a change leader? In your community? In your workplace? In your life?
When you try to make a real change, some people will feel threatened. You may not understand why. You will not know what lies underneath the resistance to change you are up against. You might at first not even be aware of the resistance, because it happens behind your back and under your radar. Let’s look at an example:
These days, many organisations have embarked on cultural change initiatives around racial diversity and equity. Such initiatives have mushroomed since the murder of George Floyd in The United States, which awakened many leaders to the persistent injustice of inequality. However, many white people feel threatened by it. “What’s going to be left for me and my children”, they might think, “when everyone else now gets special treatment? Is there even one small piece of the pie left for us after every self-proclaimed minority group has had a piece of it?”
When you try to bring about change, even with everybody’s best interest at heart, the reality is that people may be triggered by the use of just one expression like “diversity and inclusion”. And whenever they hear those words, they are no longer able to hear what you’re saying. So they hear none of your explanations of why it’s important and what’s in it for them, and none of your compelling vision of how everyone can benefit from the transformation.
Silent resistance to change is a huge challenge for a leader. It’s why so many change initiatives fail. The people who need to change their thinking and behaviour to make the change happen, simply don’t change them. And so you’re failing to create the change you seek. The answer to silent resistance is not to try and MAKE others change their behaviour. The answer is to understand the thoughts and emotions that make them NOT change it. And for digging these unspoken drivers out of the mess you need mutual trust.
That’s why building relationship is key in leadership. It always comes first, and it can never be sacrificed for the sake of time and other priorities. When you prioritise getting things done over taking the time to hear from people in the room how they are doing and what they are thinking, you are efficiently creating a train wreck of your change initiative.
Creating intimacy and trust is one of the most important skills of a leader. You need to be able to touch the hearts of the people who have to co-create the transformation with you. This is true if you want to transform your team’s dynamic, if you want to turn your organisation into one of collaborative leadership, or if you want to flip the health system from sick care to health care. You always need many others to co-create the change with you.
When you build trusted relationships, masks are not necessary, because people feel safe to show themselves. Thus, triggers, fears, and needs can rise to the surface, helping you to get to the bottom of resistance and to work together to transform the resistance into forward movement.
How do you build and maintain trusted relationships as a leader in your everyday life? What habits help you make sure you don’t prioritise more urgent things?