This month I had planned to write about routine and structure and all the things that September brings us. I was probably going to write about the transition we find ourselves in at this time of year. Nature reflects many lessons to us, and the beginning of Autumn reminds us to prepare for loss. As the trees turn and shed their leaves, they nudge us to think about letting go.
It seems there is a much more powerful lesson about change at play right now. Unless you are in some kind of isolation and diet from the news, you will be witnessing loss and transition everywhere you look.
The death of the Queen and the ascension of our new King is a masterclass in the making. Whether you are a royalist or not, and irrelevant of your political stance, there is an abundance of learning that we can draw on from what is happening right now.
There is so much I could write; this blog is my take on some of what I observed and learned as I have watched the events of the last week unfold. I have focused on what I think it can teach us about the change that people like you experience day to day. I hope it serves to help you think about your experiences of change, loss and transitions with your teams.
Stability and Security
Whether you saw her as the nation’s grandmother or not, there is a strange phenomenon at play in that people are grieving for someone they never met. Her presence as our Monarch for the last 70 years gave a sense of stability and security for many, just by the familiarity and sameness that such a long-standing leader provides. Our brains like predictability; in fact, we are hard-wired to search for patterns, so when things ‘change’ and are no longer the same, it gives rise to feelings such as anxiety and fear of the unknown. This can be very unsettling and destabilizing for many people, especially when you pair it with a newly appointed PM. Change at the top can threaten our sense of containment and the emotions it evokes can be complex.
And for others, this emotion escapes our attention. Despite the contagious nature of emotion, there are some people that are untouched by it. This is true in organisations too, and as leaders of teams, it is important that we check in with ourselves and our responses, and that we check in and respect where others are too.
When emotion is high or has a strong presence for individuals (or the collective) it is important that we listen with empathy and make time to connect with people.
Endings and letting go
Personally, I have loved watching the pageantry, educating myself on the history, and observing the pomp and ceremony that is playing out 24 hours a day. At times it feels like a scene from a well-directed pantomime. I am not up for a debate about whether it is right or wrong, I am still processing my own views, but I have found it fascinating to watch.
Whether it is right or wrong to execute such an extreme display of rituals and ceremony, the reality is that it is a huge part of a change process. The timetable of national mourning and associated events provides a way for people to let go of what was. It is an essential part of the transition and adjustment that everyone will make to the reign of King Charles III.
Yes, the change happened immediately, the Queen dies, and the King takes over. It is the psychological adjustment that we all make to that change that is defined as the transition, and it is the part often overlooked in organisational change. People need a way to move through and adjust to change that goes beyond a comprehensive communication plan. Rituals can vary along a scale. Whether you organise a team lunch to say farewell to a colleague, or you coordinate something more cognitive to let go of outdated ideas and beliefs, these points play a crucial part in the success of any change.
Consider how you are facilitating rituals in your organisation and how much attention you pay to endings and the sense of loss. Without these important acts, we risk resistance and unhealthy emotions further down the change curve which can be challenging and time-consuming.
The messy bit in the middle
Brene Brown said, “The middle is messy but that’s also where the magic happens”.
Some will say that Charles has already started to lead our nation and of course, he has in so many ways. Yet we have no idea how it will really be. We have metaphorically left the white cliffs of Dover, yet cannot clearly see the shores of France. The presence of change can leave us feeling unanchored and lost for a period. As we let go of what was, sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly, there is confusion and disorientation until the new leader, system, process, insert whatever change presents… beds in and becomes established.
However, if we have taken care of the letting go well, the beauty of the middle is that we create a void for the new to come in. If we are still holding onto the past, there is no space. Imagine if the trees and plants around us tried to burst new buds while holding on to the leaves and growth from the season before? It just doesn’t work.
So, as untethered as we may feel with a sense of nothingness, this is where the magic happens, and we have to learn to sit with that vulnerability and trust the process. As a leader, your job is to support people in this void. Taking time to hear where they are and give feedback about how they are making progress with the change no matter how small is crucial. The small wins are there as embers to fan as you help people move towards the new beginnings and what may be transformational change.
Whether you are wrestling with the events of the nation or you are experiencing change in your personal or professional life, I hope that this month’s blog has given you some food for thought. If you would like support to bring some of these ideas to life, you can contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, connect with others around you, be brave enough to sit with the mess and look after yourselves in the process.
thank you Jo, fabulous words and observations x