As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ciara Lancaster. She is a change fatigue and resilience specialist at Reimagine Change. Her focus is to help leaders at all levels to manage uncertainty, mitigate stress and modernize their mindset. She is also the author of the new book Reimagine Change: Escape change fatigue, build resilience and awaken your creative brilliance.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was fortunate to spend my childhood years growing up in Sydney, Dublin and Texas. So it is fair to say that my fascination with human behavior and cultural diversity stemmed from those international life experiences. Fast forward and I could be found at Sydney University studying Psychology & Economics.
Career-wise, I’ve since worked with Deloitte Australia as a Change Manager (leading teams of 500+ through business transformation and digital innovation efforts), and prior to that News Corp Australia, Bauer Media and SCA Brands in sales and strategy roles (honing my interpersonal skills).
Academic-wise, I’ve always been a curious, life-long learner. During maternity leave, I found myself at the University of New South Wales (AGSM Business School) upskilling in Organizational Change Management. Beyond that, I’ve completed my Diploma of Modern Psychology at the Mind Academy (going deep on mindset, neuroscience and emotional intelligence coaching) and certification in Compassion Cultivation at Stanford University (studying science-backed intrapersonal skills).
Today, under the Reimagine Change banner, I’ve authored my first best-selling book: ‘Reimagine Change: Escape Change Fatigue, Build Resilience & Awaken Your Creative Brilliance.’
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh gosh, there are so many! I have been career leaping for nearly two decades now. When you have lived most of your life outside of your comfort zone, there are going to be many learnings to laugh at in hindsight. However, at the time, mistakes can feel incredibly hard to separate yourself from.
One key takeaway is that adaptive leaders demonstrate courage, curiosity and the ability to learn on the go. Beyond that is the art of self-control, letting go and learning to stop talking about mistakes. The faster you move on and stop recalling the memories and the emotions linked to them, the faster you are training your brain to undergo synaptic pruning and remove them from your mind.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In my quest to find the ‘seed of resistance’ and learn more about the intricacies of the mind, I enrolled to study a Diploma of Modern Psychology. This involved a unit of intensive face to face coaching with internationally acclaimed, master trainer, Alistair Horscroft.
When I first introduced myself, I was not in a great place. My mental model was one of corporate discernment and my nervous system was shot to pieces. Alistair’s wonderfully quirky blend of personal stories, philosophic wisdom and his motto of ‘Amor Fati’ (Latin for ‘Love your fate, which is in fact your life’) made a lasting impact on the person I am continuing to evolve into.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Reimagine Change is a six-step framework designed to help aspiring change leaders overcome overwhelm, change fatigue and burnout through intrapersonal upskilling. Our mission is simple: To recognise and rehumanise individuals to lead change by design, not default.
At its core, this is about helping leaders better understand and overcome the dark side of rapid workplace change. It’s about integrating wisdom into foresight for others.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
One example that comes to mind draws on the importance of balancing business transformation efforts with innovation efforts, leveraging change management as the conduit. When rapid change is impacting a business, people are looking up to the leadership team for certainty and energy. This requires a high-level focus on communicating what is changing, what is staying the same and what will be new. While business transformation can feel confronting and threatening to those on the receiving end of it, co-creation and innovation provides new opportunities and excitement to flourish. The key is to mindfully highlight transformation and innovation efforts in parallel.
My advice is for organizations and leadership teams to focus on the employee experience. To win hearts and minds in these modern times, success needs to be defined by the team, for the team. Bringing everyone together to map out a flexible journey map. This will provide direction and act as a guide for more positive, future-focused conversations of change.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Personally, I have never identified as a quitter. I have always persevered or pivoted. It’s important to note that there is a very real downside to perseverance. Constant striving, never giving up and gritting your way to the end can be torturous to your mental health and wellbeing. Anyone who has experienced burnout to the point where they go on leave, take a sabbatical or physically collapse will attest to this. Over-work can often be found to be self-imposed and the result of poor boundaries and unrealistic self-expectations. The anti-dote is to surround yourself with the right energy in your team, reward yourself for progress rather than perfection and last but not least to practice self-compassion when roadblocks arise.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To lead with integrity. Here, staying true to your word and following through with aligned behaviors is critical to personal and professional success. Often leaders over promise and under deliver and this erodes trust, respect and psychological safety. Yes, the troops need optimism and a clear vision, however this modern era demands not only real-time information but real-life information. Lead with radical honesty, accountability and integrity.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” — Anonymous
Right now, the biggest missed opportunity within organizations is coaching. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it rewarding for everyone involved? Absolutely.
Now for those of you thinking that coaching really isn’t a strength of yours, consider how balancing out your technical skills with human skills could influence your ability to better lead yourself and others in the future? One simple strategy is to schedule a monthly team meeting where everyone has to summarize a new personal development book before doing a team book exchange. This is a non-confronting way to advocate for more self-leadership role modelling in your team.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
My advice is to start by replacing the phrase ‘best-practice’ with ‘brain-friendly’. Find out the accurate information and formulate a delivery plan, remembering that the human brain loves familiarity, facts and fairness. Often the most important part of the delivery plan is not the message but the after-math. Don’t fill your afternoon with meetings. Do create the space and capacity to be available afterwards. Emotional availability, human connection and empathy require you to withhold self-interest and meet the other person where they are at.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
In spite of what is swirling around us, every day brings promise. Life is about choices so opt-in and choose to control the controllables. Think routines, habits and a hearty dose of humor. Adaptive leaders lead from the front. One area of your life that is limitless is your ability to grow, change and thrive thanks to personal development resources such as TED Talks, books and online programs.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Consider these three questions: Do you want your team to be resilient and resourceful? Do you want your team to be collaborative, creative and innovative? Do you want your team to thrive and fulfil their potential?
If you answered yes, then it’s time to reimagine change and cultivate psychological safety, emotional wellbeing and belonging to restabilize human-centric foundations.
Every human being deserves to be seen, heard and valued for the complex, fragile and brilliant individuals they are. Sustainably leading through change is about addressing the personal crisis and then supporting others to emerge from the crisis as human beings first and leaders second.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1. Mental Health: Organisations that continue to view mental health as a compliance activity. A token morning tea, a week of initiatives or even a mental health awareness month as a stand-alone reflects antiquated thinking. The directive from the top must reinforce duty of care, high quality connections and belonging. Every. Single. Day.
2. Mindset: Leaders that continue try to uphold a bullet proof mentality. Fears, failings and future-focused anxiety are a part of life. Viewing them as helpful data rather than harmful traits is an important reframe. Focus on improving the quality of your self-talk and team-talk, remembering that your choice of words matter.
3. Morale: Leaders that continue to permit toxic individuals to impact team culture. As the Chief of the Australian Army once said ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’. Leaders with positional power are part of the problem when they ignore or minimize poor behaviour, rather than take action for the betterment of the business.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Stay visible. Reach out and connect with positive intent. Proactively pitch, prepare and present growth opportunities.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Create calm over chaos. Don’t meet hysteria with hysteria. Do hone your emotional intelligence and separate facts from emotions. Remember that emotions only last 90 seconds in our brain. The key is to allow that time and then quickly disengage and distract the brain with a circuit breaker. Try Mel Robbin’s ‘5-second-rule’ counting down from 5–4–3–2–1 to hack your brain, activate your pre-frontal cortex and shift out of autopilot or emotional thinking.
2. Provide clarity to quash uncertainty. There is an art and a science to written and verbal communications in turbulent times. Little and often is useful advice. Right now, most of us are drowning in unhelpful information. Don’t add to that. Do minimize contributing to cognitive overload by remembering that working memory can only hold 5–7 pieces of information at a times. So, keep it short, sharp and highly specific for your audience.
3. Show compassion and vulnerability. Many leaders may have been traditionally trained to compartmentalize their work and assume a separate work identity. Times have changed and work/life integration is the ‘new normal’. If you want buy-in, get better at being authentic and using business storytelling to share a more human side to your leadership and inspire action. Emotions, not logic, drive decisions and human connection.
4. Foster change capability and resilience. This requires a dual ‘know’ and ‘grow’ strategy. First and foremost you need to know and attend to change fatigue and burnout signs. Then you need to grow individual resilience by updating your coping strategies, by changing the narrative to one of optimism and hope, and by welcoming more creativity and joy into your work. Self-leadership starts with one, yet influences many.
5. Use the crisis as a catalyst. Buck the trend of doom and gloom and help your team to see this as a period of personal growth. Yes, these are challenging times. No, they won’t last forever. Permit peace to rise from within knowing that this is temporary and it will eventually pass. And when it does, you want to have expanded and evolved to remain competitive and personally content.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.” — Alexander Den Heijer
There is no doubt that riding the wave of aging and adversity can decrease your energy and dampen your enthusiasm. Add to that the relentless pace of workplace change and business transformation and you quickly realize that to thrive rather than merely survive, you need to have a self-leadership strategy in place. This isn’t simply about self-care, it’s about self-realization too.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I am a change fatigue and resilience specialist at Reimagine Change. My focus is to help leaders at all levels to manage uncertainty, mitigate stress and modernise their mindset. I am also the author of the new book ‘Reimagine Change: Escape change fatigue, build resilience and awaken your creative brilliance’. For more information on my work, please visit www.reimaginechange.com