On Leadership and a Healthy Fear of Stability


A mindful revolution among today’s leaders is needed around the concept of “change management.”  

A consulting cottage industry has developed to aid employees “cope” with change as if it’s the demon to be cast aside.  If change is indeed inevitable, why do we approach it with halting hesitation?

Instead, our fear would be better associated with stasis.  Growth and opportunity stagnate without change.

On Fear and Stagnation

Things are stable – run for your lives!!

L2L contributor Dr. Ria Hawkins defined a mindful leader as

“…an organizational leader who is attentive to the unfolding of experience such that s/he is open, non-judgmental, accepting and keenly aware of, and curious about, what is happening in the moment rather than acting or reacting by ‘rely[ing] too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past’ (Langer, 1989, p.11).”

Mindful Leadership

Mindful leaders understand that our employees have fears tied to past events and future worries and when change is introduced to the workplace, the buffet of  WIIFM maps appear:

  • What happens to me if I don’t adapt to this change?
  • If I have to depend more on others as a result of this change, doesn’t that mean there’s a higher risk of me failing?
  • I was comfortable with the way we used to do things and this change makes me anxious.
  • I don’t trust the people in charge around here. Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?
  • Every time we’ve tried to change things in the past, it hasn’t worked.
  • It seems like they expect us to adjust to change around here automatically. If they spent some time in my shoes they would know it’s just not that easy.

How challenging is it for leaders to work with these prevailing attitudes in a fast-paced organization? We often expect our teams to shift on a dime with the latest policy or workstream change and get frustrated when their adaptation inevitably takes longer than we expect.

Defining Reality

But as we peel away the layers of our contribution to this resistance, what do we find?

  • When we hire, how much of the decision is based on experience and education versus success in fast-paced working environments where stability is the exception?
  • When we provide orientation to newly-hired colleagues, how much of that training is on systems, workstreams, procedures and how to make coffee in the break-room?  How much investment do we make in developing a new hire’s anticipation of change as a benchmark of organizational strength?
  • As we provide continuing education and team-building activities to our colleagues, how much is devoted to celebrating change as a barometer of individual, team, customer and company success?  Do staff get nervous at monthly meetings when there is “nothing new to report”?  What mindful approaches are leaders taking to create a culture where stability is feared?

Change Happens

im·per·ma·nent (m-pûrm-nnt) adj. Not lasting or durable; not permanent.

Mindful leadership is rooted in understanding that everything is impermanent.

As Les Kaye put it in Zen at Work, “It is like trying to grasp water.”

Most people have the mental hum of “what is reliable?” droning in their consciousness.  However, equanimous leadership necessitates an understanding that we can’t step in the same river twice.  The current of our work is ever-changing.

Even with existing colleagues, we can adopt a culture of impermanence through training and the practice of mindful techniques which embrace change as normal as taking a breath.

In fact, paying attention to our breathing during times of change can help us let go of the stressors associated with it.

Emotional Rescue

As we notice stress manifesting physically (e.g., muscles tightening), emotionally (e.g., anger) or behaviorally (e.g., louder voice), we must pay attention to our breathing in that moment.

Is it shallow, fast-paced, located more in the upper chest?

By mindfully moving our breath to a deeper and slower pace, we pay attention to how our stress manifestations change.  Over time and with continuous practice, we feel episodes of change pass through us with less angst.

Keeping it Positive

We must create a culture whereby there is an awareness of impermanence without attaching a negative connotation to it. 

It is the clinging that magnifies our maps/attachments to the perceived hazards of change.

From the very outset (i.e., hiring standards), we must attract employees who are emotionally intelligent enough to share how their attachment to expectations and hope has led to acceptance of impermanence.

Many people can relate to the experience of how the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship has taught them that great attachment can lead to great suffering.

This is the leadership wisdom that arises from impermanence!

So, how does your organization cling to hope rather than ground itself in impermanence? How do you attempt to protect yourself and others from what you perceive are the negatives associated with change? Where are your individual, team and organizational opportunities to create an empowered culture of impermanence? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Erik Engberg is the Founder of Mindful Solutions
Erik specializes in mindful leadership online solutions and consulting
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook |  Twitter | Web | Blog | 412.477.5469

Image Sources: activerain.com


4 responses to “On Leadership and a Healthy Fear of Stability

  1. I think another primary reason people resist change is because so much of the change is poorly done, and — basically — never happens.

    So people ask themselves, “Is this one real?” And even if it is real, and carries through to genuine organizational change, many (most?) people will hold off investing in it and taking it seriously until it shows that it IS real and has “staying power”.

    How many execs and leaders push through meaningful change in the face of that inertia? My observation is “Not many.”


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