How to Successfully Manage the Journey of Change

All of us know that no matter how hard we try, no matter how well we plan, no matter how well we prepare, sometimes the journey ends very badly.

(Insert visual here of that famous Anti-Successories poster of a salmon, which had probably been swimming upstream for weeks to get to its spawning area, jumping out of the water right into the mouth of a bear that was lucky enough to wade into the river at just the right spot. The caption reads: “A journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.”)  

Everyone knows that some days we’re the bear and everything is going our way,  and some days we’re the salmon. 

So how do great team builders continue to inspire their employees on those crazy salmon type days? In other words, how do high-performance teams handle the tough times, react to changes and roll with the punches in a way that allows them to be consistently successful, year in and year out?


World Class Teams are Ruled by The Hope of Success Versus the Fear of Failure

When it comes to successfully leading change within an organization, the most important thing is to start with the right mindset and attitude.

When we are faced with challenge and change, whether it’s in sports, academics, business or relationships, many of us operate out of a fear of failure. We focus our attention and efforts on not falling short, on trying to stay just one step ahead. But the greatest team builders think differently. 

Sure, they are cognizant of the possibility of failure, and they prepare to deal with the things that go sideways, but their main focus is on doing what it takes to win versus simply “not lose”.  There is a subtle yet profound distinction between the two.

Great leaders know that the most effective way to get your organization to the next level is by helping employees focus their time and effort on moving forward, instead of looking back, and coaching the team to learn how to play to their strengths rather than feel bogged down by their weaknesses. 

By looking at your core strengths, talents and experience, and then adding some creativity and agility, you can “operate in the whitespace” of opportunity. And it’s easier to have the courage to open the door and try something new when you are surrounded by a visionary and supportive team.

Teams who operate from a place of safety, security and comfort can undoubtedly make it to the finish line consistently and have an incredibly long and successful career, but more often than not, the podium spots are reserved for the brave, whether by default or otherwise.


Great Leaders Focus Their Team On the Comeback, Not the Setback 

Great teambuilders also embrace setbacks as a chance to learn and excel. I knew this on an intellectual level after having raced with so many inspiring and inspired teammates, but I was forced to embrace the power of the setback on a personal level in 2007 when I was diagnosed with stage 4 osteoarthritis in both of my hips. No more cartilage. Goneski. 

I was only forty years old-the prime of my life as an endurance racer and I wasn’t ready for this in any way. My adventure racing friends called me the Human Cockroach for a reason.

I could make it through anything: freezing hail, blazing 130-degree heat, days on end with minimal food, no sleep and little water.

I had never had any major physical issues and I was always the one who moved forward on the course at all costs, never lightning fast, mind you, but never stopping. I was going to be the last woman standing in the nuclear winter! And something like osteoarthritis was going to take me out? No way.

It took a few days to finally stop figuratively kicking and screaming and finally accept the truth. When I made the conscious decision to put on my beanie cap of gratitude for what I still had (versus mourning what I was losing) and the fact that in the lottery of life’s setbacks, this was a winner, it changed everything


After my first hip replacement, I realized that I probably needed a new sport. I always loved the kayaking section of the adventure races, so I decided to become a solo ultra-endurance kayaker. In essence, I made the conscious decision to focus on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do — and broke a 24 hour Guinness World Record for kayaking in the process.

But the best thing that these metal hips ever brought me was the inspiration to start Project Athena, my nonprofit organization that helps Survivors of medical or traumatic setbacks live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery. 

The direction that I was forced to take ultimately enriched my life, and I’ve felt grateful for the hardships I faced ever since.It’s only in the toughest

of times that we find out what we’re truly capable of. And in that way, these trials (mostly in retrospect, granted) are among the most valuable life lessons and character builders imaginable.


World Class Teams Never Let the Pursuit of Perfection Hinder Progress

Conditions change…stuff happens. In fact, change is the only thing that stays the same. How we respond and adapt to change is what ultimately makes the great ones great.

Yes, sometimes our day, week, year inevitably turns out to be a lot different than we had planned, but do you let that stop you? The next big goal may be out of reach due to circumstances beyond your control, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a finish line still out there for you.

Oftentimes, the revised finish line ends up being just as meaningful as the original. The art of the change leader who never lets the pursuit of perfection hinder progress is to find that new finish line, that new challenge to strive for, and to help the employees see that light and reach for that star. 

World-class adversity managers know how to create a new win out of an old lose. They rewrite the rules for what it means to win, and mobilize their team toward that vision.

The most productive ways to deal with adversity are through out-of-the-box thinking, being courageous, becoming a visionary leader or shattering a norm. But sometimes the you-know-what hits the fan and the fan’s on high speed, and all you can do is try to make the best art you can with the resulting splatter. Art class.


Great Leaders Remove the Pressure of Needing to Have it All Figured Out. 

Just because you are the manager of your team doesn’t mean that you always have to be the leader. Leadership on a team should flow and change based on who has the most knowledge, background or experience to move the team forward in each moment, and should never be solely based on titles or tenure. 

Yes, your job as a people manager is important, especially in times of change, but more than anything you are there to facilitate the success of the team. You don’t need to be the great and powerful Oz at all times.

Everyone on your crew has something valuable to bring to the table. Let them teach the team something, help them mentor one another, ask for and accept help from them – because asking for help and accepting help from your team is a GIFT to the HELPER, and not a weakness. 

We give managers respect based upon their title, their years of hard work, and their vast experience, but that respect is continually EARNED by their LEADERSHIP— their actions and who they are for their team and their community every day.

Also, this may sound funny, but it’s more important to suck down than to suck up. Be there with and for your teammates first and foremost, and they will be there for you – in times when your organization is thriving, but most importantly, during the rough times when obstacles and challenges start knocking at your door.