The mind and heart are critical to producing significant change.

Change. Where does it begin? With me, with you—because we’re all for excellence until the consequences of improvement jolt us and create discomfort.

We talk about change and blame our lack of results on change.

We bemoan the fact that we have too much change.

We throw our arms in the air with exasperation and contend that “If those people would just change, we could get something done around here.”

One truth about change

No matter what you think you know about change or how to manage change, one truth will not go away.

The pressure to change must be more powerful than the resistance to remain the same. How do you create just the right balance of pressure and support for change?

Start with belief

People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell about themselves. Stories about the future and about change.
Seth Godin, Tribes

But we can’t tell those stories or embrace a change when our leaders share only bits and pieces. If we do not connect the dots for others through open dialogue and transparency, all change becomes suspect. There is always a feeling of something lurking behind the scenes.

Create urgency

John Kotter opens A Sense of Urgency with this warning. “We are much too complacent. And we don’t even know it.” He reminds the reader that urgency means “of pressing importance.”

When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when it fits into a schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing.

Part of building the story involves establishing the need for change. We must appeal to the mind and the heart. Why this? Why now? What does this mean for me? For us?

Kotter focuses on change and building a sense of urgency in organizations. We can also apply his strategies to our personal life to create urgency for change. How do we engage our thinking and heart to take the next steps to change?

A strategy for urgency

The strategy begins with collecting and sharing important facts. According to Kotter, you cannot make a case for change without appealing to hearts and feelings. You often see the acronym WIIFM (pronounced wifim)—What’s In It For Me.

Kotter takes that expression a step further when he turns the focus to the heart—engaging experiences that reflect an emotionally compelling need for change. Urgency comes when we win over the hearts and minds of others or ourselves.

A personal example of engaging the mind and heart

My family has a propensity for large bones and excess weight to wrap around those sizable limbs. To put it bluntly, gaining weight comes naturally and easily. Mounds of mashed potatoes and soft apricot oozing kolaches don’t slow down this process.

When I stepped on the scale one day, I stood in disbelief. How could this happen? My mind said I weighed 120 pounds. My clothes and the scale told a different story.

If you’ve ever tried losing weight, you know that appealing to only the mind will never get you past the donut shop. I needed a sense of urgency that spoke to my heart, literally. My focus could not live in the past. I had to face the truth. I wasn’t 20 and would never see that age again.

As I researched the characteristics of people who lived long healthy lives, I found my goal. What mattered wasn’t the movie magazine depiction of health or an anorexic photoshopped image. I wanted something different—strength, balance, stamina, flexibility.

Creating my personal image of a powerful woman well into her 70s, 80s, 90s, heck, even 100 gave me something greater to achieve. Only one obstacle stood in the way. Change.

Suddenly, my mind (all that I knew about health and living well) aligned to my heart (the compelling reason to change) to escape from complacency into the urgency of creating a better life.

Data gave me the facts, but the emotions of the heart created a sense of urgency. Now I had the impetus to take the steps that would protect my health and increase my chances of living the future I wanted as I gracefully aged.

Four tactics

The most successful leaders use four categories of tactics to increase urgency with heart-head strategies. These strategies also helped me begin a change process that continues daily.

All four sets of tactics can have an effect that is visceral, and not only intellectual. And used well, they influence attitudes, thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and behavior.

Tactic 1 Bring the outside into groups too inwardly focused

  • Reconnect internal reality with external opportunities or hazards
  • Bring in emotionally compelling data

Tactic 2 Behave with urgency every day

  • Never act content, anxious, or angry
  • Demonstrate your own sense of urgency

Tactic 3 Find opportunity in crisis

  • Always be alert to see if a crisis can be a friend, not just an enemy, to destroy complacency
  • Proceed with caution and never be naïve since a crisis can be deadly

Tactic 4 Deal with the NoNos

  • Remove or neutralize all relentless urgency-killers
  • Do not allow complacency to get a foothold

Lessons to consider

I view excellence as a goal “of pressing importance.” If I want to become better today than I was yesterday, I must accept change.

To remain the same means to stagnate, to become entrenched in complacency. The colors of life drain away, becoming a dull gray. If you’ve ever worked in a place that felt oppressive or found your life mired in gloom, you understand what I mean.

Our workplaces, our lives, our world depend on our ability to act on critical issues and face the challenges central to our success—indeed, our very survival.

George Bernard Shaw must have come across a few rooted mindsets when he said, “Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

How will you establish urgency and give people, or yourself, stories to embrace change? Because…

The pressure to change must be more powerful than the resistance to remain the same.

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Photo: © Kathryn LeRoy