First, you need to feel physically safe. Obviously, without being physically safe, nothing is possible. Second, it is important to feel a sense of being yourself, to be able to be who you are with all your flaws and edges, your talents and strengths and not someone else. The last component is about a sense of belonging. When you feel like you belong, you matter, you are respected and accepted. When you don’t feel a sense of belonging, emotions are as much a threat to your well-being as the absence of physical safety.
I read about it before in one of Brené Brown’s books a few years ago “Braving the wilderness, the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone”. She defines belonging as “being part of something bigger but also having the courage to stand alone, and to belong to yourself above all else.” As humans “we acclimate to the situation instead of standing for our authentic self”.
When I was reading the book, it made totally sense to me. Yet, reading about it is very different compared to living it, when you experience moment whether you fight to fit in, you really strive to belong.
Recently I made a connection between a sense of belonging and change. You may wonder what one has to do with another. As a change or transformation manager you enter a company, you feel and figure out the existing culture while you go on a journey to the discover and create a new normal and make it a better place, more performing, sustainable, more resilient, a better place to be, a place that allows you to be your authentic self and be(come) a better version of you. In this process you are both part of the system, yet you are an outsider, you feel like an alien and/or you are treated like that.
Bringing change is only possible by being different enough and seeing things through a different lens. By belonging enough you can understand where the teams comes from, what they need to be able to transform, what is unique and should uniquely stay the same.
So when you get into a new team, a new company, you work hard to acclimate, adapt, adopt new habits, try to fit in, socially, style wise, content wise, clothing and language wise. You lean in and hang on until you find your spot. And once you are there, you kind of wiggle your way out a little, taking people along, pushing, nudging, inspiring them, giving direction where to go and make it safe to be(come) more of their own selves, to grow, discover, uncover, reveal of what they are able to bring to help the company and teams grow. This is possible through training, coaching, mentoring, challenging, supporting, nurturing, by helping to take a step back and look at the existing culture as an outsider and where it could be different.
As a change manager, you typically use tools, you make presentations and plans in powerpoint and excel, on training, communication, stakeholders management, etc. It is all there and needed, those tools to support the change. Yet, there is not much rational about change. It is emotional. It is a process of letting go of what was and creating a scary new, together.
By the time your mission is completed you hope that you have left a footprint on at least a few people’s hart so that changes last, go on and multiply. It also means that when you finally feel like you belong, it is time to go. As you are no longer a change manager to that organisation. You have been a catalyst, a source of energy to move forward, a partner on the journey of people that want to ride alongside of you and see what you have to offer (to eachother), what you can mean for their career and their lives, for them as a human, perfectly imperfect person on their path to fulfilment.
You make yourself obsolete, replaceable and bit by bit you step out to aspire for a new fulfilling journey where you will be able to make a meaningful impact again.