Immersed in change, like fish in water.
In an environment where innovation no longer has peaks destined to stabilise it, but rather continuous waves driven by a constant current, we also have to change the way we deal with it: the notion of conquering mountains before getting some rest and facing new ones is no longer useful. Instead, we must immerse ourselves in change by learning to be like fish in water, and recognise our special aptitudes for dealing with a constantly moving environment. Alessandro Chelo is a trainer, coach and author of several books on leadership. Inspired by marine fauna, he has identified three types of response to change, which can help us to understand our attitudes to change in the environment where we operate.
Dolphin, shark and jellyfish represent the main behaviour patterns where we can recognise ourselves, bearing in mind that the different types can co-exist within each of us. No behaviour pattern is better than another: with every organism, as an individual or organisation, a balance must be sought between these different identities, because people as well as companies are ecosystems that evolve and grow, through exchange and balancing of their diverse elements. What matters in an organisation is to shed light on and systematise the positive aspects of the different types.
So what are the three main attitudes and how do they participate in change?
Dolphins represent an enthusiasm for all things new. Much like the animals require enrichment activities from trainers (continuous stimuli for individual subjects), the dolphin type within organisations always needs new projects or a rotation of tasks. It is often easier to develop this attitude at a young age, but there are people who remain dolphins throughout their lives. In companies and in society, the advantage of having many dolphins is an evolutionary drive to ride the change, but having too many dolphin types makes the organisation undecided and detached from reality, and requires great energy to manage the enthusiasm. They have the quality of taking charge by showing initiative and being proactive. Out of the five meta-competences of an organisation, they show open-mindedness and personal responsibility.
Sharks like stability and do not cope well with change. This should not always be seen as a negative trait, because the shark, with its powerful presence, is the custodian of the organisation's identity. Its apparent resistance allows it to filter changes, by testing their coherence with identity values and the part of the organisation's history worth protecting. To involve sharks positively in change, you just need to listen to their voice, which is often useful for assessing the risks of each transformation with a sense of awareness, and providing the tools to neutralise them. In terms of the meta-competences, this style uses independent judgement.
Jellyfish get carried by the current, but this can be a great asset. This attitude is the one that most often needs recalibrated, because it is often interpreted as passivity. In fact, you just need to remember the sense of peace and tranquillity you feel when you watch them floating in the water effortlessly to understand that relying on the movements of change can bring great advantages, both in terms of adaptation and stability. No struggle, no wasted energy – energy is left for the environment in favour of the group. Knowing how to trust, says Chelo, is quite a noble talent and the rhetoric of proactivity may need to be scaled down. Elegant and generous in letting themselves go with environmental transformations and the design that transcends them, they create beauty that derives from harmony within the organisation. They are humble and don't like to be the centre of attention, but they also need clear directions in response to the question: "What is expected of me?" In terms of meta-competences, they enable the organisation to have relational depth and pay attention to others.
If change is constant compared to the past, we can no longer talk of change management. According to Chelo, we need to live in constant harmony with it, expressing our own attitude to change with awareness of the need to integrate the three different patterns of response. Change management is replaced by broad leadership, which, when immersed in change, turns into "Fish Leadership".
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