The first rule of leadership is showing up during good times and bad. Leaders understand that how you show up separates the good from the great, the ineffective from the impactful. Think of a surgeon scrubbing into a complex case, a teacher in front of his unruly virtual classroom, an HR leader instituting rules for her emerging hybrid workplace plan — their ability to lead depends on their sense of presence, equanimity, and clarity of purpose. The importance of being grounded and understanding your relationship with yourself was the topic of our first article on resilient leadership. How you show up as a leader is also highly dependent on your relationship with the change going on around you or within you.
Ups and Downs and In-Betweens
The nature of change is that it feels chaotic and unpredictable, but ironically, there is a predictable pattern to the disruption we experience and to change itself. Change is almost always part of a continuum, or cycle, of more active uptimes (dreams, plans, accomplishments) and less active downtimes (low energy, existential thinking, being stuck). Another way to envision this cycle is to think of personal growth and change as a two-part journey: an outer journey of external systems, doing/busy-ness, results and evaluation, and an inner journey of feeling, thinking, being renewed.
We tend to think of these stages as unrelated, even compartmentalized, and counterproductive. The uptime is typically considered positive and joyful. In contrast, the downtime, the more challenging journey, is viewed more negatively and seen as anxiety-inducing and even nonproductive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of our greatest thinkers and artists describe their struggles as fuel for their creativity and growth. How have your downtimes worked to fuel you?
When the change called for presents a clear shift from a year or even a decades-long pattern, it is often called a crisis. The midlife crisis, for example, is frightening because so many of us feel like it’s too late to make the changes that will bring us closer to living our truth. It creates tremendous and understandable fear. But, if you know that significant change is what you need, know this: fear is not a strategy.
Change is a Predictable Cycle
Understanding how change works can help unlock the fear that gets you stuck and create a strategy that works. Suppose you could step back and look more holistically at change itself? What if you could recognize that the gifts of downtime fuel and energize and clarify plans to fuel the uptime? Understanding the predictable components of the change cycle is the very basis of Frederic Hudson’s Cycle of Renewal.
An unforgettable teacher, Frederic, taught that change itself is comprised of four predictable components. Understand the cycle, and you will better understand yourself and others. I have been using this tool for over 25 years, and I’ve found that it enables individuals and teams to identify where they are on this cycle and, therefore, determine their next best steps.
Phase 1: Go For It
The Heroic Self: Purposeful, Focused, Aligned, Creative, Fearless, Joyful
Phase 1 is where we all want to live and play. It is an energetic, upbeat phase, and its can-do posture is positively reinforced by cultural messages — think Nike’s “Just Do It” or every self-help mantra. People in the Go For It phase are typically most challenged by finding time to do everything they want to accomplish. Go For It is like summertime in the cycle of seasons, when long days, bright light, and playful high energy prevail.
Phase 2: The Doldrums
The Disenchanted Self: Stuck, Compulsive, Image Conscious, Distracted, Mistaking Means for Ends
Inevitably you downshift out of Going for It, either because you feel ‘done’ with that chapter or because there is an intended or unintended ending — a death, an illness, getting fired, ending a relationship, becoming an empty nester, the list goes on. There are also times that you might feel you simply no longer choose to sustain the energy to Go For It requires. The Doldrums are typically experienced as a dark time of low energy. When I work with clients, one of the hardest things is recognizing that someone is in the Doldrums and knowing they must be there for a while. Only once you accept, feel, and understand this low can you begin to shift to the next quadrant of this cycle of change.
Phase 3: Cocooning
The Inner Self: Contemplative, Visioning, Healing/Deepening, Repurposing, Rebirth
Though it is often hard to keep the faith, the Doldrums eventually give way to something else. Just like winter makes a journey through spring to summer, The Doldrums can’t lead right back to Go For It. Instead, Cocooning is like early spring — a season of nurturing new growth. It is a time when newly-planted gardens need water, warmth, and attention; your inner self needs similar TLC. Cocooning is an excellent time to pursue things that promote growth and stability, including yoga, meditation, reading books, exercise and rest. It is still an inward time but begins to look outward, entertaining new possibilities and new directions.
Phase 4: Getting Ready
The Passionate Self: Fully present, Risk-taking, Playful, Spontaneous, Accepting, Open
It is as natural as spring blossoming into summer for you to shift from that internal, experimental phase of cocooning to a new kind of re-entry into the world. Getting Ready is just what it says: exploring, networking, interviewing — all the preparatory steps we take to feel reconnected with the outside world in ways that are purposeful, productive and positive. And yes, because change is cyclical, this Getting Ready phase will lead you back to to Go For it.
How to work with, not against change:
- Knowing this is a cycle, does it change how you see what you might need or where you will shift?
- How can you be comfortable in your phase while supporting and celebrating someone in a different phase?
- How do you create time and space for what you may need based on where you are while recognizing that those around you might be in a different space with unique needs?
We are all experiencing unprecedented rates of change in not one, not two, but in most every area of our lives. And let’s face it, fear abounds. However, when the ground beneath us seems to be dynamic and changing, it’s critical to understand that change itself is comprised of four predictable, cyclical components. In doing so and by identifying where you are and what your needs are in that predictable cycle of change, you are better poised to show up and lead with resilience and empathy during periods of both tumult and opportunity.