Leadership Challenge: Sustaining Motivation and Resilience in Times of Change

If you want to go fast, go alone…if you want to go far, go with others. Learn to lead as One.


Some of us find change exciting because it brings the prospect of new learning, new experiences, and new challenges to overcome. Others find it stressful when it disrupts the stability, predictability and ease in life that we enjoy. Whichever side of the fence we find ourselves on, it has less to do with the actuality of change, and more to do with our behavioral preferences.

All human beings have an in-built need to feel safe, smart, and in control. What is different is the extent to which some of us feel we want and need the support and approval from others. Whether we are reluctant to create upset, or feel responsible for keeping things settled, many of us are highly invested in cultivating belonging, relatedness and harmony. Others, who may self-identify as outsiders, or mavericks, or simply as having a clear sense of entitlement or responsibility, feel empowered to pursue what is wanted or needed without overt concern for relational consequences. Still others may be dispassionate observers, choosing to engage when it appears necessary or desirable to benefit the system or self in whatever way is most needed. Whichever path we prefer, it likely means that we have substantially different forms of competency to contribute to the workplace. Interaction between these fundamentally different patterns drives the tone of social dynamics on our teams, in our organizations, and beyond.

From an organizational effectiveness perspective, each of these patterns has the potential to seed health as well as dysfunction. For example, if unchecked, the risk-aversion of the first can mean that we inhibit needed organizational adaptiveness. With the second we can undermine the engagement and commitment of others by virtue of them feeling left out or left behind. Successful performance requires all of us to not only understand and respect our own and others’ preferences, but to work with them in the interests of sustaining individual and collective motivation, wellbeing, and performance.

So how does it work? When our behavioral preferences are combined with those of others, be it on a team, in a department, or at the level of a whole organization, we contribute to strengths and blind spots that shape performance outcomes. If, for example, the organization needs to become more innovative, nimble, and efficient, our preference for relational harmony can slow things down too much. On the other hand, if customer experience, responsiveness, and follow-through are key to success, our self-interested and autonomous efforts can fail to meet customers needs.

Recognizing what is needed for our organization to become more effective is the first step towards building a better future. Learning how to keep ourselves in a healthy high-performing zone, and helping others do the same, is the second. When we decide to run a marathon, we know that physical stock-taking, performance planning, and endurance training will be needed, yet most of us in leadership roles never take stock of our own, let alone others’ physical and psychological strengths, preparedness, and motivational needs before embarking on a significant change agenda.

Organizations that learn to work with instead of against their members behavioral preferences will go further faster and with more fun.