Transitions matter more than changes

Comparing changes and transitions

Whenever someone starts out on a new project, job, or relationship, part of their identity shifts.

Changing identity is not always easy, so at the same time as you are working to build your new vision, you also need to be managing the inner psychological and emotional transitions that you and your team will be going through.

Some of those transitions will be large and others small, but all can have a big impact on your ability to reach your goal.

Changes happen in the outer world. They involve new roles, new activities, new reporting lines. Transitions happen in our inner worlds. They are about who we are, our identities.

For example, following a company merger and reorganisation John and his team found themselves with a new reporting line on the organisation chart. The changes involved were straightforward — John and his team could quickly adapt to working in the new location and using the new technology. What mattered more to them was the impact on their identities. Would their new role still be as important to the strategy of the firm? Would they be as close to the core decision-makers? What would be the impact on their status in the industry?

Changes are visible. Transitions are invisible.

Changes involve places, things, events, transactions, and hierarchies. Transitions are about meanings, relationships, and stories.

Changes can happen quickly. Transitions can take a long time for people to work through.

Changes are predictable. Transitions are not.

This is why change guru William Bridges says:

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

Chapter 7 of Inner Leadership describes the three stages of transition, how to manage them, and how to use them to build a final layer of inspiration and emotional engagement for your project.

Are you or the people who matter most to you going through any changes at the moment? If yes, is anybody paying attention to the inner psychological and emotional transitions that must also be happening? Is all the attention being focused on the external changes? Would it be useful to change that?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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