Make Change an Adventure

When I was a schoolteacher and vice principal years ago, I discovered how difficult it was to move 20-year teachers from the room they’d had into a better room. They would get angry about it.

“I taught these children’s parents in this room.”

“But you’re going to get a better one.”

“I don’t want a better one.”

Why do some people who are treated well in a hospital get sick again once they’re released? So they can come back! Why are some older people who are uprooted from a retirement home and put into another environment, even if the environment is much better, so disturbed that they might even die from the move?

Why is it so difficult to get people to change? Because most people perceive change as a risk, a threat, a danger. They see only the negative side of the change.

Change becomes a positive adventure when we feel safe moving out of our environmental comfort zones, out of our narrow definitions of the way things are supposed to be. When we’re taken out of our native environment and dropped into an environment where people look different, we don’t feel right.

Our comfort zones have a lot to do with our idea of how things are supposed to be. We know the kind of restaurant we feel comfortable in. We know the kind of car we can drive, the kind of aircraft we can travel in, the kind of theater and shops we would go to. We want only certain people in our club or in our neighborhood. It has a lot to do with what we let ourselves do, where we let ourselves go, and who we let ourselves be.

Without knowing it, we create our own boundaries in our own minds. Because once we get assimilated into our minds the way the store looks, the way the house looks, the way the neighborhood looks, the way the environment looks, we’re always bouncing our perception off of the environment.

When we sense differences from the way things are supposed to be, we feel tension or anxiety in our system. We feel out of place. We create boundaries around our lives or business. We need to start knocking down the walls, knocking down the boundaries, to allow ourselves to do business in India or South America or across the street with people who are different.

Building Teams

Why do you do what you do in your organization? Your power and energy come from your shared mission. It causes you to be resilient and fiercely committed. It keeps you from having a shallow, superficial life or partnership.

Most things in life can’t be done by one person. You need, then, a group of people who are united behind a common goal, reason, or purpose. How can we develop collective efficacy in our organization?

When you try to build a co-responsible team, a team for the future that can take on change and challenge with a positive nature, you first need to look at the basic philosophy and beliefs of the organization.

Two styles are dominant control and release. The release style where leaders do all they can to create an open environment conducive to the expression of ideas and talents is rather rare.

Most churches, governments, teams, corporations, and schools historically are control-oriented. In these organizations, imaginative, creative ideas are not welcomed. “We need to put in some checks and balances to shut down the imagination. We don’t want your bright ideas, thank you. I’ve only got three years before I retire. Who are you to come in here with these smart, unclassified ideas?”

With the control orientation, you don’t want ordinary human beings running around, messing up management’s perfect world. Somebody has got to control them.

ideas for business

How do you best manage your team? Is control one of the dominant issues? Are you saying, “We’ve got to have controls here and there. Who’s going to control this person and that person?”

Self-Appointed Captains

Some people try to control everybody’s behavior by becoming a self appointed ”Captain of the World.” They take it upon themselves to shape up the whole world for the world’s own good. Most rules in organizations aren’t for the good of people as much as they are to get people to behave so they don’t bother you.

As a vice principal, teacher, and football coach at Kennedy High School in Seattle, I was an interesting piece of work. I had about 35 rules for my classroom alone all for the kids’ own good, of course. “Don’t chew gun!” “Sit up straight!” “Write your name on the left side of the page. Don’t lean back in your chair.” Every time a kid violated one of my rules, it made me so mad that I couldn’t think straight. I was so busy enforcing rules, I hardly had any time left to teach.

I knew that parents were sending their kids to my school to be shaped up, and I knew that I was just the man to do it. And so I made all sorts of restrictive rules. We even had one-way halls! I’d get there at 7 in the morning to patrol kids, even though school didn’t start until 8:30. If I saw a kid going the wrong way, I’d say, “Hold it. This is a one way hall. Don’t think you can beat it. Go that way.” And then I would mutter, “Damn kids, always trying to get away with something.”

To the girls, I’d say, “Your skirt’s too short; your hair’s too long; you’re wearing too much makeup.” And then I’d mutter, “Damn kids. They drive you nuts.

Do you think my job as “Captain of the World” ended with the 3 p.m. bell? Not at all. There was plenty of time left to shape up more people in my other job as football coach: “Pick up the towels.” “Put your pads on right.” ”Run this way.” “Pass that way.” “Darn kids!” I loved that job, too.

And it didn’t end at 6 p.m. There was still plenty of time to shape up people on the way home. After all, somebody was always violating my restrictive zone when I was driving: “Hey man, who taught you how to drive? Who’s crowding in? I’ll get you!” I couldn’t even drive home without becoming a nervous wreck.

When I’d get home exhausted after a hard day’s work, Diane would ask, “Why are you so upset? What’s wrong with you?”

I’d say, “You can’t imagine what I go through all day. I caught those same two kids smoking again tonight. Can you believe that? I don’t even know who they are. It’s a tough job shaping up the whole world. It’s a jungle out there.”

Why was I so upset? Not because those kids were behaving badly, but because they were irritating me by violating my restrictive zones. Were my rules constructive? Were they conducive to running a good class? Did they have anything to do with teaching school? Absolutely not. They were silly rules. Why did I impose them? “Oh, I can justify it. These kids have to learn how to behave when they get out into the real world. That’s what I’m teaching them.” No, I wasn’t. I was teaching them to stay out of my restrictive zones or else resigned from the post of “Captain of the World” many years ago. And I want to thank those of you who have taken up that burden and responsibility for me. Because the world runs a whole lot better since I quit.

Management Zones

Many managers are so compulsive that they get jittery about things they can’t control. So they create restrictions. These restrictive zones prevent them from being free and moving easily, effectively, flexibly, optionally, seizing opportunity. Avoid restrictive zones. If you’re a compulsive punctual, you not only get upset when you’re late, you get upset when anybody else is late. And so you set up rules and regulations to cause them to behave according to your rules, which makes you difficult to live with.

You need to use affirmations to undo all those stupid restrictive zones that ruin your life and the lives of people around you. Quit trying to shape everybody up and make them have a nice house or a clean yard. In many neighborhoods, people start off loving each other but end up hating each other because they violate each other’s restrictive zones.

All of these things prevent you from exploring options and seizing the path of obvious opportunity. You start avoiding any environment where people might bother you. You won’t place yourself into any world that is different.

Imagine you are a nonsmoker who used to be a smoker, and now you’re trying to shape everybody up. You sit down to eat at a nice restaurant, and somebody puffs a cigarette clear across the room. You think, “Why are they smoking in this restaurant? That ticks me off. Don’t they have a nonsmoking area?”

Whenever anyone violates your restrictive zones, you get irritated, anxious, upset. You let people bother you and ruin your day, don’t you?

We may have one restrictive zone or thousands. The variety of restrictive patterns conditioned into us by our parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and mentors are like exposed nerve endings. Every violation hurts: “Get your hand away from your face. You’ll spread germs. Why do you think I bother to tell you this? I tell you for your own good. So stop it!”

Do you know anyone like that? They’re always shaping you up for your own good. They’re irritated by other people all day long: “How can anyone breathe so loud? That annoys me.”

What happens when you have a parent, teacher, or supervisor who has dozens of restrictive zones? They think, “I’m the boss now. I’m going to shape everybody up. From now on, everyone toes the mark. I’m instituting some very serious rules. To begin with, no long hair and no short skirts. And don’t let me catch you using pencils instead of pens. Everybody signs in when they arrive, and out when they leave.”

See, now that you’re the boss, you’ll do to your employees exactly what your parents, teachers, and supervisors did to you try to force conformity to restrictive zones that have nothing to do with the tasks at hand. In fact, the cause of many employee strikes is not that employees aren’t getting enough benefits, but that some rigid, dictatorial, dogmatic bosses have many restrictive zones which they feel compelled to pass along to everyone else. They’re not happy at their jobs; they irritate them. So they decide to shape you up or ship you out.