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Leading through Change

Leading through Change

Apr 30, 2020 2:00:00 PM

No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.

 -George Eliot

When I wrote the book the Cycle of Transformation (2014) the nautilus perfectly represented its essence. The poet and philosopher Mark Nepo beautifully captured its significance in Living in the Freshest Chamber of The Heart:

“The nautilus is a deep-sea form of life that inches like a soft man in a hard shell finding his prayers along the bottom. Over time it builds a spiral shell, but always lives in the newest chamber. The other chambers, they say, contain a gas or liquid that helps the nautilus control its buoyancy. Even here, a mute lesson in how to use the past: live in the most recent chamber and use the others to stay afloat.”

These past weeks, I am finding my prayers along the bottom. Slowly moving toward living in the newest chamber and deeply frustrated that I cannot yet claim that space. This is a time of deep transition and change. Sometimes I find myself in denial and other times my fear and sadness overwhelm me. There have been moments of deep insight, and times I catch myself trying to live in the chambers of the past. Desperation and panic seduce me to move toward action and find relief in the illusion of control. There are also hard-won moments of self-care, compassion, and attempts to stay present. While it is exhausting to operate in this vacuum, I am yet unclear on a new direction through the void. Like so many, I want to find an inspiring vision that moves me toward the new normal. Sometimes I move just to stay busy; raising prayers for clarity as I inch my way along.

This is an old and familiar story of change. There is a Cycle of Transformation, and it requires that we leave what we know and venture out into the unknown: a hero’s journey of courage and overcoming. Transformation, by its very nature, requires the death of what was and the emergence of what will be. Death brings grief and feelings of disorientation. William Bridges often said that change is hard, but it is the transitions that ultimately derail individuals and organizations. Uncertainty tempts one to jump straight to the new beginning without thoroughly marking the right of passage.

There are three predictable stages that enhance our understanding of how to make the journey without succumbing to dangerous short-cuts.

The Three Stages of Transition

William Bridges (2001), an expert on change, asserts that there are three stages of transition: Letting go, Neutral Zone, and New Beginning. My transitional pattern is currently vacillating between Letting Go of the past and being in the Neutral Zone, a place that is ambiguous and without form. There are many workplaces pivoting quickly to move into virtual offerings that go beyond what they have done in the past. This bias for action is admirable. But I am reminded that change initiatives have a high failure rate. Initiatives fail for three reasons: failure to see, a failure to move, and a failure to complete the journey. When the motivation to move is born of fear there is the potential to side-step clearly Seeing a new vision. In Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Peter Senge reminds us to listen…not to the obvious noise but to what is trying to happen in the external environment. Slowing down and listening into the silence is one way to be present and to fully experience each stage of transition. Each stage has its own unique value proposition that warrants one’s time and focus.

Letting Go

There is value in acknowledging disappointment and fear. Feeling sadness provides insight into what is important as one moves toward the newest chamber. In appreciative inquiry, another change management methodology, evaluating or taking stock of who we are at our best helps individuals and organizations evolve out of past successes. This is the buoyancy that can help us float to the top. The story of the rising phoenix is a good reminder to sift through the ashes and gather up the gems that are hidden in the embers.

An inquiry for Letting Go:

  • What emotions are reoccurring: Sadness, fear, anger, disappointment?
  • What are you afraid to lose?
  • What needs to be left behind? What are you clinging to, or resisting?
  • What do you want to take with you into the future?
  • What needs to be part of the new dream?

More on letting go…

Neutral Zone

Chaos and ambiguity can be disorienting for extended periods of time. But the Neutral Zone is like the ocean between the land you once called home and the one whose shore is too far away to see. When operating in the unknown one can feel edgy, not themselves, and more easily triggered. Listen for patterns of behavior in the void. While it might be tempting to rush through this time to get to a more orderly existence, it can also be a time of adventure and creativity. Allow yourself the space to fully explore all that is possible and avoid settling for what is known, fast, or easy.

An inquiry for the Neutral Zone:

  • What wisdom can be found in the formless?
  • What is your relationship with uncertainty and ambiguity?
  • What is your pattern during chaos?
  • What activities can support you in honoring and reconciling both a survival and abundance mindset?

The New Beginning

When I land on that distant shore, and step into a new version of normal, it is my intent to find myself where I am meant to be. This life is short, and a gift meant to be lived to its fullest. To find my greatest and best use in the days ahead, there is a path that I can choose to follow. The path calls me to:

  • listen into the silence for signals of what is needed in the external world
  • excavate my gifts and passions so I can carry the gems of the past into the neutral zone
  • creatively explore and stay open to the limitless possibilities

Being fully present to each stage of transition readies me to take up residence in the newest chamber…and my heart is the drumbeat that is calling me home.  


Bridges, W. (2001). The way of transition: Embracing life’s most difficult moments. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Nepo, M., (n.d.). Living in the freshest chamber of the heart. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from

Senge, P., Scharmer, O., Jaworski, J., Flowers, B. (2004). Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. NewYork, NY: Doubleday.

Siverson, D. (2014). The cycle of transformation: Igniting organizational change through the leader coach. North Charleston, SC: Create Space.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is the owner and founder of Xponents. She completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. Deb is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach."

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