A Message For The Change Leaders
Updated: Mar 22
It's been a minute!
(Actually, a whole week) since I said "Haiiiiii!!!" again on the socials and it's been a fucking great big warm hug, which has totally reminded me that I'm surrounded by really great people and I'm the luckiest ducky in the whole wide inter-webs. Except for those people who make a mint by posting a photo with some teeth whitening gel. But you have to have like eleventy-bajillion followers for that shit, apparently.
Anyhoo, life is grand and it's the first days of my 36th year on this earth (for those of you doing the math at home, that makes me 35 - don't you dare put that extra year on me). So that's just over a week that I have had to ponder what I want to put out to the world. I know I have a lot that I've wanted to say for a long time, but figuring out just how to say it is something I'm still wrapping my head around. You see, I promised I'd be authentic. But I still stand by the ethos that has built The Celebrant Society into what it is. That ethos is primarily about kindness. I'm just correcting the mistake I made when I let kindness be replaced by being walked-all-over by people who are just straight up snakes (otherwise termed The Nopes as you'll learn shortly). So that's a challenge.
The other challenge I've faced is that I don't exactly know who I am outside of being admin for The Celebrant Society. I have spent so long speaking on behalf of an organisation that I lost any sense of what I individually had to contribute to this world. Whenever I expressed an opinion while speaking as The Celebrant Society, I always had to edit it, censor it, and shape it into being professionally appropriate for the very diverse array of members receiving that info. So I've spent this week wondering what my own personal skills are and how I can offer them through my own personal voice in some useful way. Which made me come to a really funny realisation (maybe not funny for you but, for me, ironically hilarious.)
Bit of a backstory.
Many years ago I did a Masters Degree in Nursing - my thesis was about Change Management. I did the degree to help me eventually land a Clinical Nurse position in my specialty. When the position did eventually come up for application, years later, I somehow managed to miss it and didn't apply. Ouch. So that was a $24,000 mistake that left me with a huge university debt and a degree that I have literally never used and had absolutely no use for.
Cut to this week when I have been sitting by this computer and wondering what the hell I've contributed to celebrancy over the last decade and it dawned on me in a whopping face-slap of delightful realisation. What I have done is Change Management!
I had subconsciously put my degree to use and, without connecting the dots in my head, built an organisation that has helped act as a huge catalyst towards a major shift in the direction of the celebrant and wedding industry.
(Edit: I said helped - I recognise there are many contributors to this change so those of you who fancy yourselves an industry pioneer, untie those knickers from the tight little knot you've got them in, k?)
It's true, though. The key term here is helped. The beauty of really effective Change Management is that it acts as an encouraging push. It is a facilitator, a harborer for an environment that promotes positive change. It is a house for Change Leaders to live in.
It requires embracing those who don't know better (or think they do but missed the mark) and - this bit's important - teaching them through kindness how to join in being that change. I requires embracing all - a 'You Can Sit With Us' mentality. Too often people get confused here - we will see or hear a Karen of the world (apologies to actual Karens who don't have haircuts from 1996 or constantly ask to see the manager, and in particular Karen Dahlstrom who is actually nothing like the running joke) saying something or expressing themselves professionally in a way that we don't like and we will go full, balls-to-the-wall defensive. We go on the attack, which in turn makes Karen ultra defensive and attack back - the vicious cycle is established, no good is created, lines are further divided, and everyone goes home even more convinced that they're top shit and everyone else who doesn't agree is an asshole. Sure, you may help your own cause. But you certainly don't change anyone's mindset or improve them for the better. You don't make anyone want to change and you don't actively effect any forward movement in your cause. You just help the people on your side of the dividing line shout louder.
When I reflect back on what TCS has done, I realise that we have created a facilitator of change. The change itself has come from the work of each individual within the organisation (well, most of the individuals - more on that in a minute) but my role was to create the environment that fostered that mentality by embracing everyone who showed an interest and letting go of those who came, saw, and chose not to embrace us back.
Why that second part is really important (the people who don't want to embrace change)
When a large organisational, social, or cultural change happens there is always a spectrum of change leadership, as I have conveniently laid out for you below (compliments of my $24,000 mistake.)
You're welcome, muchachos.
These little pocket-rocket legends are the visionaries - the ones who get it, want it, and are happy to be up the front of the pack, holding torches and handing out trail mix packs & bottles of water to anyone who forgot to eat before they started this journey.
They will shout your cause from the rooftops until the cows come home and moo in admitted agreeance. These beautiful souls are supportive, encouraging, and active in their contribution towards making real, positive shifts in mentality and action. These peeps will stick by you to the end of this movement and likely well beyond it.
About 80-85% of any workplace, community, or organisational structure will be comprised of the Cool Beans, the ones who might complain a bit here and there because this change made them get out of bed an hour earlier this morning, but they either don't have the energy or personality type to be a Change Leader, or they simply don't care strongly enough one way or the other about this particular issue to fight any change. They tend to go-with-the-flow and wherever the pack ends up, they'll be there too - trail mix in hand.
It sometimes takes them a while to warm up but when they do, they'll support the cause wherever and however they can, and they'll generally show a loyalty that is, at the very least, respectful of the change incentive and the people leading it.
The nopes aren't necessarily wrong, depending on the topic of change. But they're usually the types of personalities who are sticklers in the mud and they ain't changin' for nobody, no matter what. You can go shove it. They will kick, scream, and accuse you of bloody murder before they have to jump on your stupid bandwagon. If they're a little more manipulative than being okay with outright attempts at mutiny, they will pretend (usually very well) to be on board, but will likely create chaos under the calm waters and often take joy in poisoning the movement where they can, in ways that are subtle and insidious (these ones really get my goat but I'm learning to ohhhmmm my way through it.)
Fear not, though!! The good news is that, when major change is inevitable, The semi Nopes will eventually join the party or miss out on all the banter about how fucking great the party is, and The true Nopes will drop off. They have no choice but to do so. If the change gains so much value that it becomes the industry or community expectation, The True Nopes find themselves looking for a new job.
How The Change Leaders Lead Change
If you are in a position of Change Leadership or Change Management right now, the key to your success (as has been through mine) is in how you choose to approach the Cool Beans and, more importantly, The Nopes. Recognising and understanding the above spectrum is imperative, BECAUSE -
It's okay to cop a bit of shade. It should actually be expected. There are people on both ends of the spectrum who simply will not have their minds changed, so if you are in a position right now to lead a massive change and you find that you are pleasing everybody on this scale, you are doing something wrong. The Celebrant Society has a membership renewal rate well into the high 90% range, but for those who leave us because they don't like what we stand for or who we choose to accept & embrace in our community, I actually feel really good. I know that it means we're speaking a very clear message of what we're about that is being heard by everybody on that spectrum. The people who leave us are making an acknowledgement of who we are and that's a really good thing.
That said, my highest priority is to ensure that, wherever and whenever possible, I am speaking that clear message with kindness and true leadership. True leadership is not about telling Karen her views are shit and she needs to get off her soapbox STAT. I promise you, Karen ain't gettin' off that box any time soon because you told her she's shit and you're great. Change leadership is not about drawing the attention to yourself. It does not work to say "Look at me, what a fucking VISION I am!! You can't come near me but don't ever forget that you should totally want to BE me." Leadership is not about exclusion. High school is.
People will only ever change if they are met with kindness. Never if they are made to feel excluded, unworthy, or shamed. Never.
Leadership, in its most effective form, is about putting a mirror up to those around you. It is about showing people what is good about them and encouraging those traits. When the trust is gained, the not-so-enviable traits can be addressed with kindness and empathy. Nobody wants to look in a mirror that makes them look ugly. People who are capable of change (The True Nopes excluded, because buh-bye) will only ever authentically do so if they are met with kindness. Never if they are made to feel excluded, unworthy, or shamed.
If you want to be a really effective Change Leader, take a really big, hard look at yourself. Have a think about whether what you're saying could be said differently, perhaps in a way that will be received more openly by someone who is resistant - but open to - positive change. And the next time Karen says something that makes you want to take some scissors to that stupid 24-year-old haircut, stop. Breathe. Close your eyes. Breathe again. This time, breathe in strength, peace, love, compassion, resolve. Breathe out resentment, anger, judgement, fear, hatred. Do it again. Do it once more.
Now open your eyes. Smile at Karen - a real, genuine, joyful smile - and tell her with honestly and kindness that what she said hurt you but you'd like to understand why she feels that way and what you can do to help her feel differently. I promise you, 9 times out of 10, just telling her she hurt you will be enough to wipe that soapbox right out from underneath her and remind her that the people around her are just as human she she is.
Boom - look at you go, you big Leader, you.
Okay, that's enough of that
It feels good to be able to talk about Change Management and cultural leadership again in a way that I spent two years writing academically about. I think I'll do it a bit more for any of you who identify as those little pocket-rocket change leaders I spoke of here (God, I love you lot). I believe that, together, we can evoke some real - perhaps even massive - changes in the near future. Anyway, thanks again for the warm and welcome embrace back onto social media - I'm already up to a whopping 712 followers. I'm not saying I'm an influencer or anything, but all I'm saying is that whenever Hi-Smile are ready to call, I'll be by the phone.