One of the most important boundaries that people have to establish is against the tendency to put off changes that they know need to be made. If you think about it, much “waiting” and putting off changes has nothing to do with “getting more information,” or “waiting until we get finished with a, b, or c.” Obviously, it’s essential to gather data and do analysis, but many people allow too much lag time between knowing and doing.
I (Dr. Cloud) remember once when I had a decision to make regarding a significant investment. I had been reluctant to green light the deal because it was in an area that I was less familiar with than I wanted to be. The truth, however, was that my advisers were experts in this arena, and I really did trust their opinions. Still, I was putting it off. Finally one of them, the lead investor, called me.
“We have to go forward now or it is not going to happen,” he said. “What are you going to do?”
“I want to talk to David first about some more balance sheet issues, and then I will let you know,” I said.
“What specific information do you still need that will help you make the decision?” he asked. “What exactly do you need to know to go ahead? And what are you going to learn that you don’t already know?”
When he put it that way, I realized something. There was no more piece of specific information that I needed. I was just looking for more comfort and there was no information that was ever going to give me that. I had to decide, to trust the smart people, and to eat my discomfort. I had to pull the trigger.
“You are right,” I said. “There is nothing I am going to learn that will materially change anything. I am waiting, but I guess I am not waiting on any ‘thing.’ Let’s do it. I will get the money wired today.”
Look out for this dynamic in yourself by asking: What’s holding me back? Is it lack of information or fear of making a mistake? Put some boundaries around the “need for more information” and the desire for absolute certainty. With most big decisions, risk cannot be entirely eliminated. Deal with it and get moving.
Another resistance to change is the desire to “make sure everyone is on board,” or “we reach consensus,” which is sometimes code for “I want to make sure everyone is going to like it.” Just as it’s essential to get good information, it’s also important to align key people around the proposed change. At the same time, getting absolutely everyone on board may take forever, and making everyone happy with your decision is highly unlikely anyhow.
Sometimes, after everyone has been heard and understood and has been able to have their input considered, you might have to make a decision that all are not happy with. You may even have to ask the people around you to “disagree but commit.” But you cannot wait around for everyone to get happy.
Resistance to change is a fact of life. If you want change to take hold, you must have good boundaries to contain the forces that are working against the effort.
Overcome your fear of change and learn why some people get results when others don’t. Get the must-read book for individuals and organizations by Dr. Henry Cloud, Boundaries for Leaders.