How to change when change sucks Part 3 – Asking “How can I serve?”

Mans Search For Meaning Featured

While we can stoically acknowledge the unavoidability of change, at a deep level I think many of us struggle when change is actually thrust upon us. In Harvard Business School’s (HBR) book Building Personal and Organisational Resilience (2003) they found that:

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.”

In previous posts, I shared two strategies for thriving through change:

Part 1 – Boost your mood
Part 2 – Tap into your strengths

Both these strategies allow us to elevate our mood and resilience, and know our most effective tools to thrive through challenges (our strengths). In the HBR book mentioned above, they identified three fundamental characteristics which seem to set resilient people and companies apart from others:

  1. The capacity to face and accept reality
  2. The ability to find meaning in some aspect of work and life
  3. The ability to improvise

In studies conducted by Lyn Abrahamson and Lauren Alloy in 1979, they were able to show that people susceptible to depression perceived events more realistically than their optimistic counterparts. This finding came to be known as “depressive realism” and is associated with the success of leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. When evaluating the impact of change, make sure you have some pessimists in your team for an accurate reality check (point 1).

As previously highlighted, boosting our mood helps us be 31% more productive and 300% more creative, the best possible mindset for improvisation (point 3).

So how do we find meaning in the face of change? We ask “How can I serve?”

Viktor Frankl, in his remarkable book Man’s Search for Meaning, highlights how the survivors of concentration camps, survived by tapping into personal meaning. Their focus was equally on others as well as their personal survival. During challenges at work, we can be consumed the personal impact of change, but there may be value in taking a different view which encompasses others.

As Bob Dylan says, we “Gotta Serve Somebody”. At work, we all have a role in helping others. It could be clients, work colleagues, suppliers, shareholders, or a combination of these parties. There is something incredibly energising about “helping”. Consider some of the findings about altruistic people: they feel stronger, are more energetic, and more motivated after helping others in even the smallest way (Stoddart, Men’s Health 2009). There is a direct link between altruistic behaviour and longevity – researchers speculate that ‘well-doing’ inoculates against stress and negative emotions (Putnam, Bowling Alone 2000).

So what are some ways in which we could harness the benefits of altruism and turn our focus to serving others during periods of uncertainty and change?

  1. Seek to understand WHY the change is happening – understanding the purpose of the change is the key to thriving through the process. If you gain insight as to why there is change, you are better prepared to form and implement ideas, which assist you and your team to be part of the future.

  2. Assist colleagues/stakeholders to focus on what they can control – we may be preoccupied by fear, creating anxiety for ourselves by focusing on what we could be losing or worst case scenarios which may not even happen. In times of turmoil, it is wise to not to be preoccupied with things you have no control over. Choose instead to focus on important and immediate projects for the day to productively channel your energies.

  3. Lead by example and ask “Are you OK?” – If Viktor Frankl was able to survive the horrors of Auschwitz by forming close and caring relationships with those around him, perhaps all of us can cope with uncertainty at work, by seeking to help, rather than be helped. This helps prevent a victim mentality forming in our minds.

  4. Do something to raise your spirits – why not organize a team breakfast, lunch picnic, team walk in the park, or other pleasant activity outside the normal four walls of your work environment. When we exist in a physical or mental box, we tend to think in very black and white ways, which can be unhelpful when there aren’t straightforward answers.


By refreshing your perception of and relationship to change, you can turn helplessness into helpfulness and approach change
as an opportunity to develop altruism and experience the benefits that follow from a mind predisposed towards serving others. In addition, you’ll cultivate important coping skills and resilience. This all contributes to making the experience of change less frightening for all concerned and lessens the mental anguish you risk inflicting on yourself through letting fear and anxiety reign free.

Graeme Cowan is a speaker, author and consultant, who helps people build their resilience and performance to thrive through change. To enquire about Graeme speaking at your organisation and event please email support@graemecowan.com.au or phone +612 8005 0344.

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