When You Want to Give Up: Responding to Frustrations While Leading Change

By March 16, 2017Leadership

when change fails

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Has it ever been more difficult to be patience?

Today, patience can seem as optional and unnecessary as ordering a DVD from Netflix when it’s available for instant streaming. The explosion of technology like Amazon Instant, Spotify and UberEats has removed barriers which formerly required our comfort with waiting. With those barriers removed, we don’t get as many opportunities to develop patience.

In a recent interview, best-selling author Greg McKeown described how we have no understanding of “now” due to our unhealthy relationship with modern technology. Therefore, he believes we struggle to set goals, develop patience and persevere through adversity. This is a problem if we’re going to change-makers.

When Change-Making Disappoints Us

Over the last couple months, some really insightful writers have been sharing great insights on change here at Thin Difference. The articles have been inspiring and sobering. As I’ve read those articles and even contributed a piece of my own, I began thinking about what happens when change doesn’t go the way we planned. We all have known an experience where we knew what change needed to happen but others disagreed.

In my experience, change is often incremental, limited in scope, unseen, unpopular and misunderstood.

Incremental

Change often moves slower than we’d like. Because we are impatient, we lash out and blame others. We lose heart, and some of us give up since change isn’t coming fast enough.

Limited in scope

What we saw in our vision on a grand scale often begins smaller than we’d like. Because the change is smaller, we get disappointed and think our work doesn’t matter.

Unseen

Leading change can bring less notoriety than we expected. Our epic blog post or Medium manifesto is published, and all we get back is crickets. Our Kickstarter campaign or GoFundMe fizzles out. Where is the crew begging to make a documentary of our cause? If I don’t tweet about the change, is it really happening?

Unpopular

Maybe even worse than being unseen, our change gets more pushback than approval. We believe in our cause, but others are against it. What we figured would find raving fans actually produces boo’s and enemies. Huh?!

Misunderstood

We begin leading or advocating for change, only to find other people misunderstanding and misrepresenting our intentions and character. We know our hearts and intentions, but the narrative about us is all wrong. How could our noble vision get so convoluted in the eyes of others?

Surviving the Crash of Unmet Expectations

If anyone knew about adversity, patience and pushing through disappointment, it’s Winston Churchill. Churchill served as the Prime Minister of Britain during World War II, and the man was a talking quote factory. If Churchill had Twitter, his feed would put Trump to shame for attention.

Churchill said a lot about failure and success. After all, he was leading Britain in a battle for survival. Churchill famously said, “”Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” He also said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

If Churchill was correct, then how do we walk away from the crash of our expectations meeting reality? How do we keep leading or advocating for change when things go differently than we expected?

5 Questions To Ask When Change Fails

I believe the following five questions help us rediscover the burden or passion behind the change. Leadership expert and founder of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels, calls it your “holy discontent.”

Why do I believe in this?

Our burden for change often begins with a person, a story or a conversation. Great change agents keep going back to their “why.” Knowing our “why” can sustain as change comes incrementally.

How long am I willing to give myself to this?

If we’re willing to give our lives to a change, then what seems like a limited scope in the moment is not a big deal. We have time for the scope to grow.

If this succeeds, but I’m not recognized for it, can I accept that?

While I hate Millennial-bashing, my generation’s desire for fame is dangerous. If “change” is just a tactic to pursue viral-fame, we need to check ourselves before we hurt ourselves or other people. (Yes, I wanted to write “check yourself before you wreck yourself” but didn’t! It’s called self-control.)

If I lose friends and popularity over this, will I bail?

Every great leader has had to choose between doing the right thing and popularity. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Sometimes, the right thing is hard and unpopular. This is why we need leaders. If we work for change, the reactions of others will either weaken our resolve or deepen our commitment.

Can I describe the need for this change more clearly and compellingly?

Sometimes, the reason the change isn’t going well is because what’s clear to us is foggy to others. What moves us isn’t moving anyone else. While we think it may be painfully obvious, disappointment can be a gift which causes us to achieve more clarity and a more compelling message related to the change.

Leading Change or Embracing Cynicism?

Jennie Allen is the founder of IF: Gathering, a movement to equip and empower women around the world. A couple of years ago, Jennie was asked how she fights cynicism as a young leader. “Somebody asked me – how do you overcome cynicism? My response – start building things. Then there’s no energy to tear down.”

As leaders, we can either be cynics and critics, or we can be change-makers. But we cannot be both.

We must outwork and outlast those who resist the necessary change. If the change is worth it, patience and perseverance will sustain us.

Scott Savage
Scott is a writer and a pastor. He leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. He’s married to Dani and the father of Wes, Shay and Max. You can get a free copy of his latest ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality, at www.scottsavagelive.com.

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