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The Four Phases of Change on Your Personal Leadership Journey


The Four Phases of Change on Your Personal Leadership Journey

True change has very little in common with the flick of a light switch (or winning an election).

Yes, the light goes on, but it goes off just as easily – there is no stickiness or real shift. It’s just on, off, on, off. True change is much more like a journey. When you know the phases of change, you can bring awareness to where you’re currently stuck and make conscious choices to continue to move forward.

What if you’re instigating a career change or moving overseas or your organization was acquired? Even more relevant for so many now is moving forward when your candidate lost the election? Certainly, the answer is not to just roll over with passive acceptance. You can and must empower yourself to navigate your personal leadership journey through the change and use it as a catalyst for transformation.

I’ve been a change practitioner for over 20 years and strongly believe that there are things you can do to accelerate your personal change journey through each of the phases of change. Like all journeys, the change journey begins and ends with you moving. Body, heart, mind and soul all need to make the shift. 

The Four Phases of Change on Your Personal Leadership Journey

Phase One: Physical

This is where it all starts – you make a move either by choice or a force outside of your control.

This is the easiest shift to make regardless of logistical complexity. In this phase, you’re moving from point A to point B.

My client moved from the suburbs to the City to double down on his commitment not only to his day job, but also his passion as a photographer of people in urban settings.

Another client’s company was acquired, and she had to leave her comfortable office she’d been working out of for years into a shared space.

Yet another had to reschedule countless meetings and immediately travel home to be with her father in the last days of his life.

Make the Leap Tip:

A to B can have a zillion details to juggle. Put them all on a checklist and work through it.

Phase Two: Emotional

Change is rarely easy even when you ace the logistics. You will likely feel a sense of loss regardless if you’re moving towards something wonderful or facing an unplanned tribulation.

There’s no need to push down the emotions that keep bubbling up during your change. You need to feel them and engage with them before you can let them go and move forward. It’s also essential to identify the core of the emotion. What is it about the change that’s leading to the most upset? Often, the heart of the emotional distress is masked or suppressed. Other times, the cause is clear. The bottom line is that smart leaders are unafraid to get to what’s underneath.

Coming face-to-face with emotion may make you feel weak or stupid or less masterful because it’s outside of your safety zone. So what? It’s essential for you to reframe that thought. Emotions are the heartbeat of life. 

My client Jackie was a seasoned executive on her way from Senior Director to Vice President. We worked together to accelerate her success and promotion timeline.

A week prior to our scheduled call, Jackie found out that her son had an illness that would require ongoing care. True to form, she quickly put a plan in place but at the office was struggling to maintain her focus. She was also short tempered with her team which was out of character; they were driving her nuts. Jackie realized that her team didn’t dramatically shift their performance in a week but that something else was happening with her.

At the start of our session, Jackie asked if we could talk about something personal, her son. For our hour together she worked through the rawness of her son’s new reality and was able to begin to assimilate her feelings.  Almost immediately she was able to take a deep breath and get back on track with her critical work projects too.

Jackie was not a corporate zombie, but a leader with a full life. In her effort to segment, she stopped herself from accepting her child’s health issue and was unable to remain on target at work. As I often tell clients, half a person can’t be a whole leader.

Make the Leap Tip:

Take a beat and find a trusted advisor, mentor, coach or friend and be with the emotions you’re experiencing – the whole crazy messy lot of them. Emotions indicate aliveness and a human rawness. If you don’t want to talk it through, write about your emotions in a journal. Getting to the root of your emotional distress puts you in control instead of at emotion’s whim. You choose how, but get the feelings on the table instead of packed way in a suitcase and stored in a closet only to be reopened days, weeks or months later.


Phase Three: Mental

Longing for the status quo of the past won’t bring it back. This is the phase where you make the mental leap from the old to the new. Unless you mindfully engage in your present circumstances, you’ll never fully cross the divide.

After an acquisition, I had a client tell me in every single coaching session that the new company couldn’t hold a candle to the old organization. His headspace never left his old paradigm which left little room to embrace the new. He sat in the new building, had a new salary, new boss, and new colleagues, but all of that wasn’t enough for him to make the change from an employee of Company X to Company Z.

Here in my small community, there are other American families. Some of them order a huge number of groceries and cleaning supplies and have them shipped from the USA to Australia each month. I’ve decided that I live here and while it’s unfamiliar, I can make the leap to buying my necessities at the local store. It’s a small action that demonstrates a commitment to current circumstances.

Make the Leap Tip:

Bring a heightened awareness to when you’re choosing to live life and exercise your personal leadership like a temp. It’s through this awareness you’ll make dozens of new choices a day that enables you to make a lasting change. You owe it to your spouse, friends, family, colleagues, customers and your organization to be invested today.

Phase Four: Spiritual

For some of you this phase may call forth religious spirituality, and for others, it’s more of a sense of connection to something bigger than you. Either way, in this phase of change you are stepping into a space that ultimately brings you a sense of peace and purpose.

There will always be things that are out of your control. Learn to let go (make note, this does not mean stop caring!)

Let go and accept where you are.
Let go and trust you will figure things out.
Let go and believe in what’s possible.
Let go of your constant comparisons.
Let go of what is keeping you handcuffed to the past.
Let go and ignite your purpose.

When you let go, it’s when you’re able to go all in. There’s no more resistance, but instead moving forward in your relationships with faith, hope, positivity and resilience.

However, let me be clear that letting go does not mean giving up. This phase is where the spark inside of you purposefully becomes a fire that ignites broader change.

My client saw that his current organization, that he loved, was ultimately not committed to his success. The poor cultural fit limited his impact and crushed his spirit. He came to me after he found a new job (made the physical move), had mourned that his dream job wasn’t such a dream (emotional phase), and mentally shifted his mindset to creating success in his new industry. He also was on the edge of investing a large sum of money in his side hustle.

Through our work in this phase:

“I have to” became “I want.”
“I have no choice” became “I’ll keep an open mind.”
“It has to be this way” became “I will be okay no matter what.”
“Why did this happen” became “I can create my future.”

Did he make millions? No. Did he make the leap with both peace and possibility in his heart? You bet.

Make the Leap Tip:

Once you find peace with what is, and are no longer mourning the loss of the past, you can powerfully create your future.

Of course, there is always scaffolding present as well – not one of us makes a change in isolation. Hope, relationships, positivity and resilience are critical components to any successful change journey.

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