How do we make change happen? Pathways to Possibility, a book by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist and the wife of noted orchestral conductor Ben Zander, has some important reminders. Transformation, in her view, involves systems or fields rather than CEOs or heroes. But behavior matters.
She focuses on being rather than doing. While we try to do the right thing, no one has the full picture. Einstein noted that “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness around it”. How we act relates to our past experience. Zander describes us as walking stories.
We are affected by what happens to us as children and the strong positive or negative feelings these events evoke. Both become internalized and part of how we cope. We bring them into the relationships in our lives, Families and organizations of all sizes become a network of tangled pasts. We sometimes compare organizations to families and use words like warmth, caring, loyalty and belonging. But hidden in the family metaphor, says Zander, are control, hierarchy, competition, neglect, coercion and smothering. Groups of any size may be a living collection of child stories.
As we mature, we may discover on our own that the stories are not valid or universal and no longer apply. Sometimes it takes therapy or life changing events to bring them to the surface. Zander suggests two strategies to overcome the hurtful experiences – to recognize them as memories located in the past or look at them as stages in our personal development. We don’t have to be stuck in them and entrap others in the process. We can tell our stories and move on. She says:
We reconcile by facts and words, we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In these ways, we bring our hearts into collective resonance and that is where our power lies.
Having dealt with individuals, Zander moves on to larger groupings and the ways we try to change people. Her list includes management, patience, do as I say, exclusion loving manipulation, bribery and ultimatums. As a parent and grandparent, I’ve used all of them consciously, if not wisely. It might be less obvious how all of us use them to organizations – but we do. At a recent meeting, I watched people offer suggestions of what we might do to fix people we thought were less effective in defined roles. But we excluded ourselves from the picture.
Zander’s insight is no surprise. If we wish to shift change in an organization, it has to start with ourselves. She calls the process walking into a new story. It is our being – not our doing – that will make the difference.
Offering good advice is out. What we need to look for in others is what she terms the infinite self – we know this possibility in ourselves and our task is to see it in someone else. rather than just look through the lens of our own story. The task is to see possibility. The result is more likely to be collaboration.