Overcoming the fear to change

  • Business
  • Thursday, 13 Feb 2003

Dr ONG HEAN TATT's Sun Tzu's Management Leadership

ONE of the salient features of the market is that market factors change all the time. It is a matter of how slow or fast the change will come, but change is inevitable.  

However, people generally fear and hate change. For example, most people would hate to be transferred to a new job or new location.  

They dislike having to adjust to the new things brought about by the change.  

The unknown seems to strike fear into many, who wonder if they could manage the necessary new changes. 

Change often causes instability. Many leaders can remain obstinate and refuse to change, stuck firmly in the past, and becoming victims of obsolete ideas.  

Inflexibility also means a blindness to changing circumstances. Instead of positively recognising change and adapting to it, the inflexible person fears change and would be frozen in his stubborn refusal to alter his moves.  

He will desperately stick to old familiar paradigms, scold anyone who dares to suggest something different, and lead his organisation to ruin. 

Thus, the swift and bewildering pace of change tends to catch people unaware and could cause a person to panic.  

This confuses the mind and renders it even more difficult to comprehend the nature of the change.  

So, Sun Tzu urges that the leader must remain calm: 

Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may appear chaos and yet no real chaos exists; troops seem to be in disarray and yet cannot be defeated.  

Stimulated confusion is actually good order; stimulated fear is in reality courage; and stimulated weakness true strength.  

Covering order with disorder depends on organisation; concealing valour for a cowardly front hides latent surplus energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical disposition.  

Thus, the skilful keeps the enemy on the move with by deceitful appearances to which the enemy will respond.  

With baits, he keeps the enemy on the move and with a troop of picked men lies in wait to strike. Sun Tzu 5:16-20. 

The new things brought about by change necessitate collection of new information.  

Or, one may have enough information to deal with change. But many fall prey to being emotionally upset by change and hence are unable to correctly collect or harness information to deal with change.  

Of course, if one does not have sufficient information, then being too emotional will make it even more difficult to get the information. 

The leader must first have a positive attitude to change: 

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained one victory, but respond to circumstances in limitless ways... Military tactics are like water... Just as water retains no constant shape, in war there shall be no constant conditions.  

He who can modify his tactics according to the enemy’s situations shall be victorious and may be called the Divine Commander. Sun Tzu 6:28-33. 

The wise leader would plan in terms of options and contingencies.  

Guidelines must be given to plans and programmes to be modified by implementers. 

Adaptive response to change means moving an outdated structure through a transition stage into a final enriched desired stage. Implementation of response to change could cover eight steps: 

· Assemble the supporters 

· Articulate a shared vision 

·Define guiding structure and process of accountability 

· Ensure communication and training 

· Review 

·Enable local participation and innovation 

· Establish standards 

· Provide symbolic recognition and rewards 

Sun Tzu’s advice is: do not be obstinate! Obstinacy is but a sign of the underlying fear that one may not cope with change. 

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