Leading Change from an Outside Angle

Last March, when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the lives of people across the globe, it became popular to observe the “unprecedented” nature of the times. Everything we took for granted, it seemed, changed in a few short weeks. People fell ill, families were separated indefinitely, breadwinners lost their jobs, and school buildings were closed. It was a moment of tragedy that has continued into a protracted period of uncertainty and instability.

But it was also a reminder of just how adaptable and resilient we are, as individuals and together. Who would have imagined that we could so quickly adjust to new ways of living and working, such as waiting in lines outside grocery stores and adding a mask to our mental checklists every time we leave the house?

Change is now staring us down with an intensity and omnipresence that forces us to attend to it. Just in the past year, a determined movement for racial justice, deep political division and economic inequality, extraordinary innovation and entrepreneurship, and an unfolding environmental crisis have combined with the pandemic to provide a call to action for all of us.

For some of us, there is a tendency to hold tight to our precious few bastions of stability during these times. It’s only natural to cling to the things that provide security, comfort, and a sense of control. But tolerance for maintaining the status quo is also growing limited as these intersecting forces lay bare the shortcomings of so many of our social and organizational systems.

For us, this flood of change and uncertainty has been an invitation to meet our own fear of change head on, and to test our understanding of the complex psychological and emotional dynamics of change. Individuals’ and organizations’ readiness to adopt new ways of thinking and adapt their ways of working can take months or years to manufacture—or outside forces can drive that readiness to materialize overnight. 

We decided to seize the opportunity and launch Outside Angle to support teams and leaders in their most dynamic moments, and help them deliver successful change on behalf of their customers and communities. Response to our approach so far has resonated more than we could have imagined. It’s becoming increasingly clear that, at this point in history, we are all change leaders. Across sectors ranging form K-12 and higher education to healthcare, retail, and philanthropy, companies and organizations have approached us with unique projects that are diverse in so many ways, but connected by the common thread of change leadership.

Peter Senge describes the space between the current reality and an aspirational end state as a location of “creative tension”. We know there are so many other leaders who recognize the need and the opportunity in this moment but face an overwhelming tension. The events of 2020 and 2021 have presented more of an imperative for evolution than a chance to safely stay the same. 

Leading and managing change means embracing and living with uncertainty to create space for innovation and growth that was previously impossible. This means the moments when people may feel least ready for change are actually those when change is most possible, but it requires retraining oneself from the overwhelming urge to solve problems and resolve tension before solutions are fully developed and implemented.

The pace of change will only continue to accelerate. Whether it is the continuous uncertainty about how best to get children back in school or the process for rolling out vaccines effectively and equitably, change leadership will remain at the forefront and there will be no “going back to normal”. More than ever before, it is essential for organizations and communities to build the capacity to lead change into their DNA. In the coming months and years, we look forward to growing a community and supporting the brave and innovative work of these change leaders.