How “Heraclitus” of You

A while back, I was meeting with a client and we were talking about our work together. It focused on the nature of change and how it was impacting his organization and the executive team. He quoted a Greek philosopher, saying that the man was best known for expressing the notion that you can not step into the same river twice.

Later, he did some some research and sent me an email about Heraclitus (the Greek Philosopher in question), who lived during the late 6th century BCE. The actual proposition was that “although the waters are always changing, the rivers stay the same.” Critical of those who did not see the unity in experience, Heraclitus claimed that while opposites are necessary for life, they are unified in a system of balanced exchanges. His point was that while everything is changing, some things change so that it’s possible for the continued existence of other things.

“Managing Change” (individual) and “Leading Through Change: (organizational) are two of my most requested programs. The focus might be on the stages of change, the phases of change, the individual perspectives of change, the plan for change, a potential problem protection process, a roll out plan, a communication plan, or a follow through plan. However, a large majority of the leaders I work with want to get better at managing the transition process and think they can improve thier performance in managing it and improve the effiiciency of others going through it.

We might talk about the pressure for change, creating a shared vision, having the capacity to change, resiliency, and the creation of a plan. We rarely, however, talk about transition as part of a holistic view.

When I designed my first training program on change (way back in the olden days), it contained a module that explored the key changes that can happen in our lives. An interactive exercise that helped participants focus on the universality of change, it usually came down to personal experiences. Learning to drive, leaving home, the first job, a marriage, the birth of a child, a divorce, a death , an illness or accident – these changes were key moments in our lives that shaped us. Not everyone served in the armed forces, experienced a life threatening illness or a devastating act of nature. Everyone, however, had experienced the changes that come from growing older. As Gail Sheehey observes in her books Passages and More Passages, there are some things we experience, simply because we have entered a new decade.

People reported a learned resiliency, a devastating turn of events, a major shift in thought, or a new awareness. Although the experiences were highly personal, they were also universal, My clients today, however, prefer that I focus on the strategic and organizational aspects of change and steer clear of the stuff that seemed a little ‘touchy-feely.’ So that portion of the program fell by the wayside.

I have a new clarity about this. Managing trasntion well is really about finding our footing anew and locating our place. If we can resist a bit less and explore a bit more, there may be fewer struggles. Like Heraclitus, I view transition like water in the stream, always different water, yet still part of the stream.

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