Developing the ability to navigate change – through hiking!

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Over the summer break I had a chance to reflect on the changes in my life right now and how I was dealing with them. One day, I was hiking in the countryside with my partner. We were enjoying the view from the hilltop after a strenuous climb when I was struck by how the journey of change I was reflecting on was mirrored by the journey of the hike itself.

Alan Watkins published ‘Step Change: The Leader’s Journey’ earlier this year. In it he describes the 12 steps that underly the process of change. He makes a rallying call to all leaders to develop their change capability and to learn to recognise and navigate those steps so they can drive change more easily. So, in the service of bringing this map of change to life, here’s how going for a walk provides an illuminating metaphor:

  1. Comfort zone – From the comforts of home you decide to go out for a walk somewhere. As you start walking, the path is initially flat, easy, and maybe accompanied by a babbling brook. The air is fresh, the skies are blue, and a gentle stroll seems like a great idea. But perhaps you have a nagging sense that this easy start isn’t going to last.
  1. Challenge to reality – You turn a corner and are confronted by a peak far off in the distance. Checking the map, you realise how much further away it is and how little ground you’ve covered so far. The scale of what lies ahead is daunting. Do you stick with the stroll, or do you answer the call to adventure and go for a hike?
  1. Resistance to change – You ignore the question. Trees obscure the view ahead for a while and it gets harder to find your way. The path suddenly becomes a lot steeper. You realise the stroll has become a hike anyway! You are tempted to turn back. At this moment, another hiker appears striding confidently towards you and guides you onto the right path.
  1. Overcoming resistance – You steel yourself, resolve to keep going and go up the steeper path. As you reach a gentler gradient, you get another view of the peak and this time it feels enticing. You check the map again. The way ahead seems a bit more obvious. Maybe you can do this after all.
  1. Commitment – You set off with a renewed sense of determination.  I want to do this, I can do this, I am going to do this! You find a burst of energy as you commit to yourself, and you stride with more speed. This carries you on for a while until you emerge above the treeline and onto the steepest, rockiest part of the climb up.
  1. Preparation – It’s time to stop and gather resources for the last push to the top. You study the map and check your trusted guidebook for tips on navigating the next section. You have an energy-boosting snack from your packed lunch. You put on a windproof jacket for extra protection and set off for the peak.
  1. Road of trials – The next section is the trickiest part. You must avoid the boggy areas where you could get stuck. You approach what appears to be the summit, but when you get there, it’s a false summit and there’s further to go. You reach a fork in the path. There’s a shortcut down the other side that avoids the very top, or…
  1. Conquering the challenge – You chose to go all the way. You take the path that leads to a narrow ledge of rock with a long drop on both sides. You traverse it carefully with an occasional ‘heart in mouth’ stumble. At the end of the ledge is the final scramble up to the peak. It’s dangerous, but you are so close now and you push yourself to conquer it!
  1. Embodying the change – Atop the mountain there is the sky above, the rock beneath and you in between. You feel small in comparison, but at the same time taller from what you’ve just achieved! You look back down the path to see where you’ve come from. With a spring in your step, you walk along the high ridge top.
  1. Return home – You reluctantly start the trek back down and leave the high vistas behind you. The path down is just as tricky in places as the one up was, but you’re carried by the self-belief from conquering the peak. As you look down the path, you start to anticipate the return home.
  1. Deliver at a new level – You make it back to the car and drive home. Your sore feet and muddy boots are testament to what you’ve achieved. You feel different, you carry yourself with more confidence. As a result, you are prepared to take on more challenges as they arise – now you’d rather hike than stroll.
  1. Inspire others – People notice the change in you and ask you about it. You proudly share stories of your hike and how it changed you. You tell them that it has enabled you to be more courageous in other parts of your life. You even inspire some to set off to conquer their own peak.

Taking on the challenge of hiking solo about nine years ago was a significant moment in my own journey of change. It gave me the confidence to tackle other personal and professional challenges in my life.

I hope that this map and metaphor for change strikes a chord in you. I’d love to know if it inspires you to set off on your own journey or reveals to you where you are right now.

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