I’ve just finished an interesting project. I’ve been interviewing the CEOs and senior executives of 12 large national and multinational organisations who’ve been involved in a transformational leadership training program. I would love to tell you some of the amazing things they said about the impact on themselves, their teams, organisations and families because it would blow you away. However, their remarks are confidential, so I’ll share just the flavour of them.
All of the leaders spoke about a dramatic transformation in their listening, their empathy with others, their ability to see things from another’s perspective, their general self-awareness. Over and over, each of them spoke as if a giant mirror had been held up to them, and for the first time, they could see themselves for themselves.
As they spoke, they were shocked, moved, exhilarated. One man in particular, a man in his 60s, told me something about his view of himself as an ethical person and his discovery of his error that was profoundly moving.
These men, and one woman, had all experienced something called transformation. Many people don’t understand what’s meant by “transformation”; they think of it as lying on a continuum with “minimal change” at one end, “big change” in the middle region and “transformation” at the other end. However, change and transformation are radically, qualitatively different.
Change lies in the realm of “more, better or different” in which we work hard to make more of something, make something better or make something different from how it is now. It’s about turning up the volume, you could say, while the “stuff” of the content remains constant.
All efforts in the realm of change tend towards entropy; to say it another way, one has to put in tremendous effort or the situation simply reverts to the default. And inevitably, one day it does. Thus, the old chestnut, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
Transformation, on the other hand, is not about “more, better or different”. Transformation is a state change; like ice and water, or gas and liquid. It is the instantaneous reorganisation of a thing around an entirely different principle; a radical reconstitution that happens in an instant, and does not involve work or striving.
Transformation is looking into the kaleidoscope, giving it a quarter-turn and seeing the coloured shards form an entirely new picture. Transformation always involves revelation or a new seeing. And what is seen cannot be unseen. Thus, transformation is a one-way phenomenon. When it’s experienced, it cannot be undone. It can be forgotten, but never undone.
In the last few days in Australia, we’ve had the latest turn of the screw applied to refugees attempting to claim asylum in Australia who travel by leaky boat from Indonesia. The Prime Minister has declared such refugees will now be transferred to the impoverished neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea and left there, and that even if their claim of asylum is validated, they will never be settled in Australia. The “debate” that has followed this decision is poisonous on many counts. What’s most poisonous, however, is that it’s the same conversation Australia’s been having for decades in one form or another.
It’s a conversation firmly in the realm of change, and will come back again and again like an out-of-control boomerang. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. What’s needed is transformation, the kind of transformation the people I’ve been interviewing have experienced, the kind of transformation that involves revealing one’s self to one’s self.
Image: Brigitte Bardot in La Vérité (1960) by Henri-Georges Clouzot