“People don’t resist change as much as the way they are changed.”
– Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill’s cautionary reminder serves as an excellent segue to the familiar description of how ‘hot water’ affects us all differently. You may remember the familiar allegory as this:
Imagine there is a pot of boiling water atop the stove burner. On the counter are three objects: A fresh egg, a carrot and a coffee bean. Our opportunity to learn how each of these objects is affected by the boiling water begins as we take the egg and place it into the pot.
We learn that in minutes the egg has hardened on the inside, internally affected by the immense heat as it has radiated and directed that greater influence inwardly. The water continues to boil, uninterrupted as it continues to forever alter the egg. In time, we know that the egg will actually break, as the hardening from within eventually rises to its surface and destroys itself.
Upon removing the egg, we turn to the carrot, and place it into the pot that continues to boil. Once again, the sustained heat and water cause the carrot to change, though in this case the carrot quickly becomes soft, unable to maintain the strength it had before placed into its new setting. Like the egg, the carrot will continue past a point of change, and actually begin to disintegrate and become basically unusable. Knowing this to be the end result, we remove the carrot before we are required to pick up the pieces.
Lastly, we turn to the coffee bean.
When we place the coffee bean into the boiling water, we see that change is similarly subtle and paced. But unlike the carrot or the egg before it, the coffee bean reacts quite differently. Soon we can see that the coffee bean has begun to exude itself into its environment. The coffee bean begins to change its surroundings by using the energy and power it is situated in and in turn alters that environment with what’s inside of the bean. In time, the coffee bean has effectively changed its environment. And should more and hotter water be added, the coffee bean will continue to influence that additional and new part of its environment as well.
The story is one of great importance in understanding the dynamics and power of leadership within the organization. As with the first two scenarios, we understand that those who merely seek to manage their environment inevitably are deeply affected by their surroundings. However, leaders who arrive to a new place immediately begin to employ a process of becoming part of that environment but also to influence and alter it to a different state and quality.
Like our friend the coffee bean, leaders respond–rather than react– to their new settings and soon begin to influence those around them as well as their environments.