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Reality based leadership Cy Wakeman, is a dynamic international keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and global thought leader with over 25 years experience cultivating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. 


Grounded in reality, Wakeman’s philosophy has helped organizations and individuals all over the world learn to ditch the drama and turn excuses into results. Cy is the keynote speaker at our upcoming Vision 2018 conferences in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. This is her second blog post in our reality-based leadership series. 

The year was 1989. My presentation was titled “how to thrive in changing times.” It was filled with insights, tools, and tactics to get employee buy-in, lead through emotional transitions, and lock in new behaviors. However, the presenter who followed me blew minds that day on the critical importance of developing keyboarding skills because everyone would soon be working on desktop computers. That message sounded so innovative that I quickly fell in line with my Human Resource leader’s recommendation that we administer keyboarding fluency tests to every job applicant at our organization. 

You might notice this paradox in traditional talent development — many organizations require software fluency as a non-negotiable hiring skill. Yet, we don’t require change agility and resiliency in the same non-negotiable skillset. Individuals have limited employment options if they lack computer fluency, yet the inability to respond well to change doesn’t present such hiring limitations in the job market. 

Almost 30 years later, it continues to surprise me that one of our most requested topics is still “change management.” Despite decades of content, organizations still struggle with how to keep people responding well to business evolution in a global marketplace. This drama and resistance is exacerbated by one myth that will simply not die. It’s one of the most common anchors holding people from stepping up into readiness: the myth that change is hard. 

Myth: Change is Hard

Leaders who verbalize the belief that “change is hard” lead with that language as a means to show love and concern for the impact to employees, but it often results in the burden of shouldering the heavy lifting of the change effort. This leadership burden blocks the gift daily reality gives us – new circumstances, new policies, new regulations, changing market conditions, etc. that require updated skills to adapt and thrive.  There’s a well-tested theory for this, and it’s called evolution. Species that tend to advance are those that are not protected as they are required to adapt to new and changing circumstances. Coddled employees see their personal pain from less-than-perfect circumstances as an excuse not to perform. As a result, they have chronic shock syndrome — constantly taken by surprise when change happens and choosing a victim mindset instead of succeeding in spite of the facts.

Reality: Change is Only Hard for the Unready

Change is hard? Not necessarily. Our research shows that change is only hard for the unready. Change is only painful for people who attach their happiness to a preferred set of circumstances.

Employees who live in a state of readiness don’t ascribe to the belief that change is hard. They are willing. They are advocates. They are all in. They’re ready for the future. They’re not blind to the realities of making change work or the obstacles of new processes or projects. They’ve made the choice not to argue with reality, because arguing with reality only generates drama. They’re too busy ensuring a successful outcome and adding value because they’ve anticipated what’s next.

A Story about Personal Readiness

While working with a multi-national pharmaceuticals company, we tested my business readiness hypothesis. Senior leaders made a strategic decision to move from a hierarchical office structure to an open office environment. Employee chatter about the impending change spanned the emotional spectrum, from predictions of doom to skepticism about the viability of the plan, from tentative exploration to excitement.

To correlate personal readiness to difficulty with change, we created a survey that would help us assess employees’ state of readiness. Before the move, we asked questions to assess people’s technology and innovation savviness. We inquired about the size of their networks, what current communication methods they used and what innovative ways of working they had tried? How up to date were they on the developments in their world and industry?

Three months after these employees moved into their new environment, we did a follow-up survey asking them to rate their experience of how hard the change was and how the company had managed it. We found overwhelming correlation: Those who scored low in personal readiness in the pre-survey also rated the change as difficult. The low-readiness employees were also the most critical of the way the business managed the change. They stepped down into blame instead of stepping up to accountability.

What Can Leaders Do to Build a Ready Team?

Change management philosophies have outlived whatever usefulness they might have had. It is no longer about making it the leader’s job to make change least disruptive to the people. It’s time to move to business readiness, which is a transformational strategy of making change least disruptive to the business.

It requires the ability to align and adapt as a responsibility of the employee. With a focus on business readiness, employees step up their level of willingness, participation, and shared responsibility for anticipating and responding to change.

One way you can call teams to greatness is to deliver news with empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is understanding that someone is struggling. If you roll out a new requirement with empathy, you simply let people know what is now required from the organization and ask the group for their ideas to make it work.  

If you roll out that same idea with sympathy, you begin by apologizing for having the team take on more responsibility coupled with your own personal opinions about whether or not you agree with the change. Sympathy goes further to feel sorry for the team and collude with them that they are innocent victims and any problems they encounter are due to their difficult circumstances.

I am thrilled to bust more change myths and provide you tools and coaching questions at the Vision 2018 conferences to bypass the ego and upcycle energy from drama into productivity. In my exclusive workshop, I’ll show you how great leaders are excellent managers of energy – armed with great questions and tools to redirect efforts from “why we can’t” into “how we can.”  You’ll learn how to create employees who are ready for change and step up eagerly to meet it, or even find it. They take responsibility for sustaining their state of readiness so that their expertise and efforts are constantly directed to the future instead of clinging to the past.

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