The Vulnerability of Change

Managing change and leading ourselves before we try and lead others are two of my favourite topics.  As a Southern African who’s spent a large chunk of her life flying airplanes, and another good chunk sharing communication, strategy and leadership tools with business teams across multiple industries – I’d have considered myself fairly well versed on both topics.  Until I moved countries.
Granted, moving from Zimbabwe to New Zealand was always going to involve a fair amount of change.  Just how much, and in what ways, wasn’t something I understood until now.  As a Southern African, I’m used to meeting change head-on.  I’m used to having to make multiple new plans per day on short notice.  What I’m not used to is trying to find my footing when I arrive in an entirely new space, even when that new space is of my own choosing.
Change makes us vulnerable, and not wanting to feel vulnerable is one of the biggest reasons we avoid it.  So how do we cope when we need to choose big change? 
We take lessons from a lobster. 
The below analogy has come at me from various sources recently – each time appealing more to my increasing recognition of the process.  I thought I’d share it.

How Lobsters Choose Change

Lobsters, like other crustaceans, have a hard outer shell that protects their soft bodies. However, their shell doesn’t grow or expand with them as they mature.  So, in order to continue growing, lobsters need to periodically shed their old shell and form a new one in a process known as moulting.
Each time the lobster grows, its body becomes cramped within the confines of its current shell. The pressure from the increasing size becomes too much to bear, and the lobster starts feeling uncomfortable, signaling that it’s time to seek refuge and shed its old shell.
The lobster finds a safe hiding spot such as a crevice or a rocky area and, once it feels secure, begins the remarkable transformation.  It secretes enzymes that weaken the connection between its old shell and its body, allowing it to wriggle out of its old exoskeleton, leaving behind an empty shell.
At this stage, the lobster is soft and vulnerable, as its new shell is still forming and hardening. It stays hidden in its refuge, waiting until the new shell is fully developed and sturdy enough to provide the protection it needs.  Eventually, the lobster emerges from its hiding spot with a new, larger, and stronger shell, ready to face the challenges of the world with its increased size and resilience.

Lessons from A Lobster

Growth often requires us to step out of our comfort zones.  As the lobster eventually starts to feel the pressure of its shell becoming too tight, we may experience discomfort or limitations in our own lives as we grow and develop. Recognising these signs and finding the refuge or support we need to shed our old beliefs, habits, or ways of thinking that no longer serve us is how we grow.
Stepping into the unknown, like the lobster seeking a safe hiding spot, may initially make us feel vulnerable and exposed.  However, it is during these times of transition and transformation that we have the opportunity to grow, learn, and develop new strengths and capabilities.
Just as the lobster patiently waits for its new shell to harden, we must be patient with ourselves during times of growth and change.  It takes time for new skills, perspectives, and characteristics to develop fully.  Once we’ve shed our old shells and embraced the discomfort of growth, we emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Signs & Solutions

1. Discomfort and restlessness: Pay attention to feelings of restlessness, dissatisfaction, or a sense that something is amiss as feeling stuck or unfulfilled is an indication that you need to reassess your current situation.  Take time to reflect on what’s causing this discomfort, as identifying the source of your discomfort will help you determine if a shift or transition is necessary.  Is it the tasks you’re responsible for, the environment you’re in, or the overall alignment with your values and goals?
Once you recognize the need for change, explore new possibilities.  Consider alternative paths, roles, or projects that align better with your passions and aspirations.  Take calculated risks to step out of your comfort zone and embrace new challenges that ignite your enthusiasm and drive.  Remember, growth often happens outside of our comfort zones.

2. Plateauing or lack of challenge: If you find yourself in a role where you no longer feel challenged or inspired, it’s time to evaluate if you’ve outgrown your current position.  Reflect on your professional goals and assess if your current role allows you to continue growing and learning.  Are there opportunities for advancement, skill development, or innovation?  If not, it may be an indication that you need to seek new challenges or responsibilities.
Consider discussing your aspirations and concerns with your leadership or trusted mentors, as they can provide guidance on potential growth opportunities within your organization or suggest external opportunities that align with your goals.  Don’t be afraid to explore new avenues that push you out of your comfort zone and provide the necessary stimulation for personal and professional development.

3. Feedback from others: Seeking feedback from trusted colleagues, mentors, or team members is an invaluable resource when contemplating a shift or transition.  Others may provide insights and perspectives that we may have overlooked.  Engage in open and honest conversations with individuals who understand your strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations.
Listen carefully to the feedback and reflect upon it, identifying recurring themes or patterns that arise from multiple sources.  While it’s essential to consider feedback, ultimately, trust your own judgment and intuition.  Use the feedback as a guide, but make decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of your own goals and values.

4. Intuition and self-reflection: Trust your intuition and engage in regular self-reflection to assess your alignment with your authentic self.  Set aside dedicated time for introspection and deep thinking.  Ask yourself meaningful questions about your purpose, values, and aspirations. Consider whether your current leadership role and responsibilities align with who you are and who you want to become.
During self-reflection, identify areas where you may feel a disconnect or misalignment.  It could be a misalignment between your values and the organization’s values, a lack of personal fulfillment, or a sense of not fully utilizing your unique strengths and talents.  Trust your instincts and be honest with yourself about the need for a shift or transition.

5. Seek new perspectives: Embarking on a new space or direction requires exploration of new perspectives.  Just as a lobster explores different hiding spots during its moulting process, open yourself up to diverse ideas and experiences.  Engage in conversations with people outside your usual circle, whether through networking events, industry conferences, or online communities.
By actively seeking out different viewpoints, you expand your understanding and challenge your existing beliefs, and these fresh perspectives can spark innovative thinking and open doors to new opportunities that align with your evolving leadership goals.

6. Continual learning and development: Personal leadership growth requires a commitment to continuous learning and development.  Invest in yourself by acquiring new skills, expanding your knowledge base, and staying abreast of industry trends.  Attend workshops, seminars, or webinars related to your field of interest.
Engage in self-directed learning through books, podcasts, or online courses.  By actively pursuing learning opportunities, you stay ahead of the curve and equip yourself with the tools needed to navigate the challenges and complexities of leadership in a rapidly changing world.

7. Embrace discomfort and take calculated risks: Stepping into new spaces or directions often involves venturing into the unknown, just like the vulnerable lobster in its soft phase. Embrace the discomfort and recognize that growth lies outside your comfort zone.  Take calculated risks that align with your values and aspirations.
This could mean pursuing a different leadership role, launching a new project, or exploring innovative approaches within your current organization.  Embracing discomfort not only fosters personal growth but also sets an example for those you lead, encouraging them to embrace their own potential and take bold steps toward their goals.

8. Build a support network: The vulnerability of change is not to be underestimated, and the support of individuals who can provide guidance and encouragement is essential.  Seek out mentors, coaches, or peers who have experienced similar transitions and can offer valuable insights.  
Engage in meaningful conversations, share your aspirations and challenges, and be open to receiving feedback.  A strong support network provides a safe space for vulnerability and acts as a sounding board for ideas, helping you navigate the uncertainties and complexities that come with personal leadership transitions.

9. Communicate with transparency: As a leader, open and transparent communication is paramount, so when undergoing a shift or transition, share your journey with those you lead. Be transparent about your aspirations, challenges, and the reasons behind your decision.  
By communicating openly, you foster trust, encourage collaboration, and create a culture that embraces growth and change.  Your vulnerability can inspire others to embrace their own development and embark on transformative journeys.

In A Nutshell (Lobster Shell?)

The example of how a lobster grows and sheds its hard shell offers a powerful life adage for our own personal growth.  By recognizing the signs that indicate a need for change, seeking new perspectives, investing in continuous learning, embracing discomfort, building a support network, and communicating transparently, we can navigate the transitions and transformations that arise in our personal leadership journeys. 
By embracing the discomfort of growth and seeking refuge in times of transition, we can emerge stronger and more resilient.  Just as a lobster emerges from its hiding spot with a new, larger, and stronger shell, each of us has the potential to emerge as a more resilient, impactful, and fulfilled individual.  
Embrace growth, embrace change, and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead on your path to personal leadership excellence.  Retaining our hard shell isn’t what’s going to get us there.

(Apologies to anyone whose OCD is triggered by there being 9 points instead of 10)

by Christen Killick

June 5th, 2023

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