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Courage in Change

Posted by Lon Swartzentruber on Jul 11, 2019, 8:00:00 AM

LS July blog image Change + courage (002)As I mentioned last month, change takes courage, curiosity, and trust. This month, I’m taking a deep dive into courage, and how it can help you approach, embrace, and engage change.

A little over a year ago, I began working with an executive director whose predecessor was well-liked and had a long tenure but left rather abruptly.

In the new director’s first six months, she learned a lot about the organization she was leading. She began finding issues that needed to be addressed, challenges that needed to be solved, and relationships that needed to be repaired.

My client began to see that significant organizational change needed to happen so that the organization’s mission could be fulfilled
. Her sense was that many people (perhaps even herself) were not ready for major change. The board was used to doing things in a certain way, clients were used to receiving services within a traditional framework, and the internal organizational systems were used to achieving specific outcomes.

And yet she and the organization needed to move forward.

Over the next six months, we began to craft a plan that would slowly but surely address the issues she had discovered. We realized that some people in the organization needed to let go of the old ways of doing things. And my client realized that she had to let go of needing to control the outcome. That took courage.

Theory U—Letting Go and Letting Come

Otto Scharmer has developed a very helpful concept called “Theory U.” In a nutshell, this theory states that change requires both “letting go” and “letting come.” Once you let go, you make space for new things to come. It sounds easy, but it’s no small thing because you don’t often know what specifically will be coming.

Scharmer uses a U shape to illustrate the movement from “letting go” to “letting come.” As you’re letting go, you’re traveling to the bottom of the “U”—and that lowest point can be a very scary spot to be. It’s the point when doubt can creep in, where panic can happen, and where you want to reach back for what was.

Reaching back is one of the most human instincts we have. It’s our desire for safety and security. Crossing that point to get to the upswing of “letting come” takes courage. It also takes curiosity and trust. Next month’s post will explore the former, so stay tuned!

Until then, if you have a question, thought or example you’d like to share related to courage in change, I’d love to hear it! Please comment below. You may also reach me directly at

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Topics: leadership coaching, lon swartzentruber, business, deep dive, nonprofit, education, faith-based community