Manage Change
ATD Blog

How Mindful Leaders Manage Change: Adapting When the Status Quo Fails

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” ~ Stephen Hawking

In today’s ever-mutating and fast-paced business landscape, change is unavoidable—and often strikes quickly. The key to managing change is to learn how to maintain emotional composure and clarity when alterations occur in your environment. But it can be difficult to adapt to the transformation happening, whether it’s internal and external, with your sanity and composure intact.

Two Different Types of Situational Workplace Change

Elizabeth is the CEO of a thriving multinational company. Recently, her chief operations officer puts in notice to leave after three successful but tense years. A week later, a headhunter poaches her best sales director. That same day, one of her senior managers quits. She fears the stability that once held the company and her team afloat is now crumbling. She struggles with disappointment, feelings of abandonment, and worries about hiring worthy replacements. In the present moment, Elizabeth feels uncertain about the immediate future of her company.

Tom, a mid-level manager in his early thirties, has felt dissatisfaction at work for months. He urges to change positions or create an entirely different career path. He’s just not sure what that path might be. The fear of losing the status and power associated with his current position, his job title that provides ego satisfaction, and his financial stability have forced him to maintain the status quo in his career for years. Now, something is different. Internally, he knows a major shift is in the making and that he needs to proceed, but he is afraid to take the leap. The fear of not having his 9-to-5 job scares him, and he doesn’t know what he would do without the status and stability that his current position presents.

Both Elizabeth and Tom need to find comfort in the face of imminent change. They must decide to say “yes” to the new and close the door on the past that no longer serves them.


When Past Patterns No Longer Work

Chances are that if you are a successful businessperson you’ve found a formula of behaviors that work to achieve the results you want. But when results start to alter, the old formula can’t be repeated; a new formula for success must be calculated. If the internal drivers, outcomes or environment have changed, then it's time to adapt.

How Fear Holds You Back from Change


A large component of our resistance to change lies in fear. It is the psychological barrier that instinctually repels us from anything that deviates from the easily relatable realities of our past. We fear the unknown and the unpredictability of the future that we don’t control. This hinders our internal capacity for embracing and facilitating change.

Change also most often involves a loss of something that was once familiar, acceptable or pleasurable, and when circumstances alter we feel that sense of loss.

How to Deal with Change More Effectively

Here are a few ways that will help you cope mindfully when faced with changing circumstances that threaten the status quo:

  • Acknowledge that the change is real. The first step to manage change and take control of what's emerging is to accept that change is inevitable. It’s like gravity. It’s unavoidable. And the sooner you can accept that change is happening, the quicker you can take responsibility for managing yourself and take the necessary steps to guide your own change.
  • Change is not personal. Avoid self-blame and narrow thinking that presents itself when we feel pressure from change. The ebbs and flows of life are experienced by everyone, you are not alone. However, some people move through what is called “The Change Cycle” quicker than others. Change is part of everyone’s life, it's how you adapt and face emerging transformation that is important.
  • Trust is a choice. The only way to resolve the fear associated with change is to learn to trust yourself and let go of the things you cannot change. This takes developing self-worth that derives from personal confidence in your character and your competence. Discover how to tap into the power of cultivating trust in this article on The Culture of Trust. When you trust, you relax, and you are better equipped to quickly gain and maintain access to your knowledge and skills. Learn to trust in your ability and skills to respond.
  • Be mindful, and be present. Mindfulness can be a strong anchor when dealing with periods of transition. Without denying the reality of change, mindfulness practices allow us to be present and allow us to access stability and clarity in the midst of uncertainty. Don’t look back. Evaluate the situation at hand and decide how to best tackle it. Look around. You often have untapped and underutilized resources to solve whatever problems arise in the present moment. Instead of fantasizing about doomsday, focus on the realities and opportunities of the present moment.
  • Alter your perspective. Ultimately, you control how your mind interprets the change around you. Consider new circumstances as an opportunity for growth and improvement. From that perspective, you are better equipped to make decisions from a positive growth mindset.
  • Develop resilience. Recent studies show that resilient people are capable of handling their positive and negative emotions with greater psychological flexibility. Other research indicates that people who have a 3-to-1 ratio of daily positive to negative emotions (three times as many positive emotions to one negative emotion daily) tend to be more resilient and can self-motivate; they create their own change instead of latching on to a status quo until it becomes irrelevant.

In today’s faced-paced, rapidly shifting world, leaders must adapt to change swiftly, in order to avoid stagnation, miss opportunity for innovation and growth, or worse, become incapacitated. After all, you never know what's going to come up, but if you have a solid foundation in mindful leadership and can better manage your inner world, then you are one step closer to successfully managing change for yourself and for others.

About the Author

Dawa Tarchin Phillips is the president and CEO of Empowerment Holdings, LLC, a U.S.-based international leadership training and consulting firm that trains business leaders and organizations on five continents in mindful leadership, conscious prosperity, and conscious business approaches. He’s also the founder of the Mindful Leadership Breakthrough System, a live webcast series designed to help executives and leadership development professionals apply mindfulness principles to overcome common internal and external barriers to presence, productivity and performance.

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