Change is hard. We’ve heard it a thousand times. We know it, but we think we will be different than the rest of the crowd. We mean well. We try something new and, more often than not, we find that we don’t have the steely determination we thought we had. We often relapse into old habits and ways of thinking. I know, because there are things in my life I have tried multiple times to change – like getting exercise every day, that I have yet to make a regular part of my life.
In order to encourage healthy, sustainable changes in the public realm, we not only have to change ourselves (the most important and often most difficult task), we must also encourage others to suspend judgment and try the new idea or approach we see as needed. Both these actions take courage because most people would rather keep doing things the way we have always done them even when they no longer make sense. Resistance and push-back commonly follow the leader who urges people to leave their comfort zones.
It takes courage and discipline to try something new, like changing the way you collaborate and share power with others in public life. By changing the existing power dynamic (top-down), you are going against the stream of existing models. You are causing a ripple of change that some might find very uncomfortable.
When leading change, should we go it alone?
My belief is no, we should not. Many of us doing something new for the first time need help and support now and then. I am not talking about one-off workshops or webinars. I am talking about having a coach – someone who can guide you on your journey of change and who can support you when you get stuck – and who is willing to do so month after month after month. Civic leaders who want to encourage positive change for the common good often need something equivalent to a personal trainer.
I know from experience that my mentor has been invaluable to me in moving me ahead on the path of Civic Governance and my business. Many times, I have wanted to give up and call it quits, but her unwavering support over many years and her keen insights have kept me going. Civic work is probably some of the hardest, but most rewarding work you can do. A coach keeps you on the path, helping you to stay the course and produce the outcomes you had hoped for.
There is another side of having a coach that is equally important. A mentor must also be willing to tell it like it is and call us on it when we don’t do the work. You need someone who is willing to point out your inconsistencies and not accept your excuses forever. At some point, you need someone to draw the line in the sand and ask, “Are you “in” or are you “out”? Because if you are in, you have to be willing to do the work.” My mentor has had to have this little chat with me more than once. I have to say, I deserved it. Words are cheap. Sustained action is hard. Someone needs to hold you accountable for what you say you believe in.
Mostly, a coach is generous with their time. They are available if you need them. They let you whine (for a while). They understand the courage it takes to make change happen. This relationship takes time to build and sustain. It does not develop quickly. It comes only when enough time is spent talking together in 1-1 conversations over the course of time. Sorry to those that were hoping for quick fixes. Civic work is ultimately relational, requiring patience and fortitude. So, find yourself someone you can trust. Ask for their help and their honesty and be willing to be criticized now and then.
Once you have reached a place of comfort and skill in public life, you, in turn can become a mentor someone else. Strive to be like the coach you had by giving of yourself and being present to the needs of your mentee. Be a part of a community of people that are dedicated to renewing democracy one person at a time.