When you look at various people in your life, you’ll likely see a noticeable difference between those who lean into change and those who run from it. Some of the most significant events in my life have resulted from change that I initially feared or even tried to avoid. There are several skills we can learn from the “leaners” that can be applied to our professional and personal lives.

Why is change so scary?
The word “change” is often associated with fear or dread. Most of us crave comfort and/or control, so it’s no wonder the idea of either of these being disrupted elicits a reaction. This is likely because the emotional part of the brain processes information significantly faster than the logical part of the brain. When emotion takes over, our ability to reason can be hindered. For many, it’s the fear of the unknown that causes our minds to race with questions or our palms to sweat from the sudden loss of control. 

While we may not always have control over change, we do have control over how we respond to it. I believe there are generally two types of people: those who lean into change, and those who run from it.

It would be naïve to think that those who lean into change are simply more “brave” than others. I would argue that there are conscious choices we make that allow us to embrace change – but don’t get me wrong: it takes work. Those who “lean in” are typically:

  • Open-minded

  • Ambitious

  • Eager to learn

  • Willing to take on new projects

Are you seeing a theme here? They raise their hand. They go out on a limb. They are willing to take risks. Does this come easier to some than others? Of course! There are many experiences from our past that may prevent us from taking risks or making a big move, but I believe the people in this category are characterized by the ability (or choice) to focus on looking forward rather than backward. Looking at what’s ahead prevents us from being distracted by what may be holding us back.

Those who lean into change are more likely to grow in their career and to be organizational leaders. By embracing change and being seen as someone who says “yes,” the “leaners” are sought out for their talents and willingness to tackle projects others are afraid of. They tend to experience more personal growth, as well. By developing emotional intelligence, those who lean into change are more likely to have strong interpersonal relationships in and outside of work.

Three practical ways to lean in.
So how do we face our fears and proactively embrace change? Here are some actionable steps we can all take to keep us moving in the right direction. 

1.    Be prepared. When faced with change, ask questions - don’t make assumptions. Create a plan of action for yourself or your team. Setting expectations ahead of change is an important part of change management and can help calm people’s fears.

2.    Don’t freak out. No, but seriously. Focus on the things you know, NOT the unknowns. Ignore the gossip, and take it one day at a time. This is the time when a healthy dose of emotional intelligence really comes in handy: remain calm and choose logic over fear.

3.    Think happy thoughts. A positive attitude goes a long way. Most change affects more than just one person, so help rally the troops. If you sense anxiety among your fellow team members, remind them that you’re all in it together. If you’re in a leadership role, over-communicate. If you don’t know all the answers, it’s ok to say so. Honesty is always a good policy - give them a reason to trust you!

If we all focus on trying to lean into change, imagine the difference in our workplaces! How much time and energy is spent complaining, doubting, speculating and “running the other way?” A team characterized by openness and a willingness to take risks is an unstoppable force. By leaning into change, we not only spark personal growth, but also help advance our organization’s mission.

AuthorCaroline Thompson