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Big Changes: How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Cassandra Worthy

The changes we’ve had to embrace this year were monumental and caused many of us to feel overwhelmed. But what if you could cultivate a growth mindset that could help you enjoy—and thrive during—times of significant change in your life?

Today’s episode of Women Amplified, which is a replay of a session from the 2021 Texas Conference for Women, will help you do just that.

We will explore strategies that will help you leverage your decision-making skills to champion change. This framework will help you quantify your strengths and areas of growth, as well as the softer skills required to effectively manage change.

Learn how to embrace change, and ways to find your power and resilience during turbulent times.

Cassandra Worthy

CASSANDRA WORTHY is founder and CEO of We Are Change Enthusiasts LLC, a top-leading leadership development firm specializing in navigating the emotions of change. She is a former Fortune 100 Innovation Leader, highly dynamic speaker and presenter, chemical engineer, but above all else the world’s leading expert on Change Enthusiasm®. Through her corporate experiences, she has not only endured but THRIVED during major change challenges including acquisition and significant organizational restructure. This endurance was thanks to the creation and cultivation of her strategy of Change Enthusiasm®. In her dynamic keynotes and workshops, with wit and infectious energy, she now teaches this unique strategy with world-class business leaders across dozens of industries around the world. Worthy founded the Global #WeAreChangeEnthusiasts movement, garnering more than 3.5M online impressions and over 1.2M video views and counting. @cassandra_worthy_speaker

Celeste Headlee

Celeste HeadleeCeleste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It, Do Nothing, Heard Mentality, and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

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Transcript of Cassandra Worthy’s Talk on Change in 2021

For my session, we’re going to be talking about something, that every single person on the planet has gotten a lot closer to over these past several months, and that is change. And I’m not only going to be talking about the chemistry, the feelings, the emotions of change, and how to harness the power of that energy to fuel your growth through change and disruption, but also the skills required to lead with exception, when your teams and organizations are going through change and the emotional complexity is very high.

So here’s how the session’s going to flow. We’re going to start with a why. Why is this message relevant? Why should you care? Next, we’ll dive into the how. How does one harness the power of emotion to fuel their growth through change as well as what are the skills required to lead with exception when leading teams and organizations through change and disruption?

And lastly, I’ll leave you with a what. What is it that I challenge you to do once you’re armed with those lessons and those tools? So let’s dive into the why. Why should you care? Why do you want to keep tuning into the session? Why not click to another session or even get up from your computer to finish, going to watch your favorite streaming program? I’m hooked on The Nevers on HBO, but let me not incentivize you away from the screen. So the reasons that I think this message is relevant is three-fold. The first is no matter what industry or business you’re in right now, I’m certain that you’re experiencing some level of change, whether that be continuing to pivot and serving your customers and clients with excellence or this great transition that we’re all embarking upon, advancing into this new way of working, this hybrid way of working, where any given point in time, people in your organization might be working remotely or working in a physical space.

Now, the second reason is the fact that I’ve experienced in my own personal life, as well as experienced through thousands of my clients all around the world. And that’s the fact that the emotions of change are real and undeniable. Of course, emotions like anticipation and excitement, but also those tougher emotions like fear, like anxiety, like frustration, like anger. These are energetic entities that are natural to our species and cannot be denied when going through change and transition. Now, the last reason is what I feel is the most compelling for each and every one of you. And that’s the fact that you have the power to control how you experience change, and how you lead and influence through change. It is up to you. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with dozens of clients all over the world over the past couple years, clients in the aviation industry experiencing significant contraction, rocked by the pandemic, clients in the social media industry experiencing exponential growth with changing customer and consumer habits.

And regardless of if it’s contraction or growth, I have seen leaders, executives, individuals alike, embrace what I’m going to be teaching in this session to reach fulfilled growth through perhaps the biggest changes in their professional careers. Hopefully, those reasons are compelling enough, or I hadn’t lost any of you to Netflix. So let’s keep it moving. Let’s get into the how. And let’s start with a mindset, the mindset that will enable you to harness the power of emotion to fuel your growth through any change and any disruption. Well, this mindset is something that I’ve coined change enthusiasm, change enthusiasm. So what is it? I’m sure many of you are looking at your screen thinking to yourself, “All right, how is this different from being a change agent or a change optimist? She just put another little cute word at the end of change. There’s no real meat behind it.”

Well, if you’re thinking that, you couldn’t be further from the truth, because this is actually a workable strategy and it’s a strategy that’s worked through the practice of three simple steps. And those steps are the signal, the opportunity and the choice. Think of it like a traffic light, the red light being the signal, the yellow light being the opportunity, excuse me, and the green light being the choice, the signal, the opportunity and the choice. Now I want to unpack this by sharing a story from my own personal life and how I’ve put this mindset to work in my professional career. But before I do, I want to share a brief overview for each step and give you the meaning behind each. So starting with the signal. These are these really tough emotions that we often face when going through change, emotions like fear, like anxiety, like frustration or grief, these emotions that exist to serve us.

And this first step is about acknowledging and embracing those emotions to do just that and accepting their invitation to our greatest opportunities to grow. As soon as you can embrace those emotions is existing to serve, you can set that invitation and you step into the second step, the opportunity, and it’s here that you’re exploring options and looking for ways to milk this opportunity for all that it’s worth.

And then comes the third step. This is where the magic happens, the choice. Through the power of choice, you can choose from those options to begin transforming that signal emotional energy into fuel, choosing the option that inspires a better feeling and ultimately, a better result. You see, it’s through the power of choice that we can transform that signal emotional energy into what I call growth sustaining emotions of change. It’s like transforming anxiety of what’s to come into anticipation of everything that you’ll learn and how you’ll grow. It’s like transforming the emotion of fear into hope of all the good that’s in store. And those are the three steps.

So now I want to talk about how you apply this, and I want to share a story with you on how I brought it to life in my own life. And as I do that, I want to paint the picture of change enthusiasm as the growth cycle that it is, as the practice that it is in your day to day. So I’ve had the great privilege of experiencing many multi-billion dollar acquisitions. And the second, I was a part of a company that got acquired by a multi-billion dollar entity. And shortly after the acquisition closed, senior leadership of that new company started to cut heads, headcount. They were looking to reduce cost. And at this time, I was a mid-level executive. So it was a very uncertain time for myself and many of my colleagues.

Now on top of that, I was also given a new manager. Now this manager was brought in by the acquiring company so he didn’t know me, didn’t know my background, didn’t know the culture that I had come from. Well, during a budget review, after being with this manager for a couple months, he was sitting in my office and he looked at me and he said, “You know, Cassandra, I like you. And I want to keep you, but I’m just not seeing a lot of value in having you in my organization in a couple years.” This is a true story. This man looked me in my face and told me that despite liking me, he would see no value in having me in his organization in a couple years. After he left my office, my mouth was dry. My hair was standing up in the back of my neck. I was feeling all these signal emotions, fearful, angry of not seeing the value. I was very quickly sinking into that mental downward spiral with all of these emotions.

And I couldn’t stop thinking that thought that the worst had just happened. I was about to lose my job, but fortunately, I’m a practicing change enthusiast. So in a moment of clarity, I recognized the physicality of my mouth being dry and knew that I was experiencing those signal emotions. And in that knowing, I accepted their invitation into my opportunity to grow. And sitting in that opportunity, I started a thing to myself, “All right. So this dude had just given me two years, two years with a paycheck. He’s going to pay me to find a different position.” And what would be in my mind? A better position. And so the options that I saw them were I could either look for an opportunity outside out of his organization, but still in that company, or look for a completely different role in a different company.

And after weighing those options, I made the conscious productive choice to begin exploring what might be possible outside of his organization, but still in that company, leveraging my network. And through the power of choice, I began to transform those signal emotions. And I started to get this sense of calm and eventually, a sense of hope in anticipation of what I could get into, what I could evolve into next. And over the course of the next four months, I worked with leadership in a different organization in that company to create a role for myself. And it was a role that better leveraged my talents and gifts. It was a role that was in an organization that actually valued my contributions and showed great promise for advancement, simply by working the strategy.

Now don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t all sunflowers and daisies. It wasn’t all good. It wasn’t all good. Throughout the course of those four months, I experienced many different dynamics, many different changes and had to pivot and had to work on my influence to influence up across and down the organization. And each point, at each pivot, I was continued to be brought back and to this first step inspired by these signal emotions, invited to continue to work this strategy, to work this strategy time after time in the face of every signal emotion. And over those four months, the more that I practiced the strategy, I was building my resilience muscle. I am a firm believer that resilience is not something we’re born with. It’s something that has to be stretched and ripped and torn over time. And we do that through the practice of experiencing change, and ultimately the practice of this mindset. So over those four months, I was not only building that resilience muscle, but I was creating a role that I absolutely loved. And to this day, I am so grateful to that manager for sharing that information with me.

And the more that you can practice this mindset, the signal, the opportunity, and the choice, you will come to find that the really big changes never happen to you. They happen for you, to serve you, to serve your evolution, enabling you to become better, to unleash your inner rockstar that I know you all have within. So hopefully, that’s all making sense, the signal, the opportunity and the choice, because I want to switch gears a little bit. And I want to of talk about the skills that are required when you’re leading others through change, when they’re experiencing their own signal emotions. And at this time I want you to go ahead and pull up the worksheet. That should be in the Resources tab under your screen. Pull that up because as we go through these skills, I’m going to be challenging with some questions and inviting you to capture an action and completion timing, to improve these skills for yourself. Each and every one of you will leave with a personalized action plan to become a better leader and influencer through change, whether you have direct reports or not.

So let’s get into it. Now, before I walk through these, I do just want to offer a disclaimer. There are 0% of my presentations that close without me geeking out a little bit. So I’m a chemical engineer by trade and I love geeking out with my audiences. So you were looking at the periodic chart of leadership elements that are so critical when leading others through change, when the emotional complexion of the organization and the teams is highly complex, and those skills are communicative, hungry, authentic, not rigid, grateful and empathetic. So we’re going to step through each one. I’m going to challenge you with some questions and then invite you to capture an action that you’re committed to taking with timing, to improve the skill for yourself.

All right, let’s dig in. Let’s start with communicative, and James Humes. Now, for those of you who are unaware, James Humes was one of our most prolific U.S. presidential speech writers. He wrote speeches for Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush, and James teaches us that the art of communication is the language of leadership. The way that you show up and speak both verbally. And non-verbally, that’s how you speak your language of leadership. And when we’re going and leading through big change, big transition transformation, it is so critical that we’re communicating clearly to our direct reports, to our peers and to our management teams so that everyone can remain clear and rowing in the same boat in the same direction. So as you think about this skillset for yourself, I want you to ask yourself, have you made all the applicable changes impacting you and your organization? Have you made that clear to your teams and your organizations? Have you made that crystal clear so they understand the vision? And with that statement, have you also succinctly communicated expectations to your direct reports, to your peers and even to your management, expectations of them as you move through this change and transition?

And then lastly, are you offering clear and timely, actionable feedback to those employees, to those individuals to write the course, whether that be positive reinforcement or some constructive feedback when they need to walk the path? So I want you to think about these questions, think about how you’re showing up in your organization today and capture one action you’re committed to taking to improving this skill for yourself. And of course, capture some timing, because I want you to commit to this.

Now, as you’re doing this, I got a pop quiz for you all. So like I said, I like to geek out. So these are actually real atomic numbers and atomic weights. So in the chat box, I want you to take a stab if you know what chemical element is atomic number eight, and atomic weight 15.99. And don’t cheat. I don’t want none of you all Googling or Yahoo-ing the responses.

Now go ahead and put in some responses in the chat box. And for those of you who actually commented with oxygen, you’re correct. Pat yourself on the back, yes. So just as we want our air to be clear and readily available, so do we want our communication when we’re leading through complex change and transition. So think about an upcoming opportunity for you to share this skill. And I want you to capture that action and the timing. All right, now let’s keep rocking to hungry and I’m not just talking about for lunch or for breakfast. This is about nurturing your self and always. Mr. Warren Buffet, Warren Buffet says, “You are your own biggest asset. Anything you do to invest in yourself, that’s the best possible investment.” Now this is coming from a multi-billionaire who will likely go down as the greatest investor in our history.

That’s what you need to do, invest in yourself. When we’re leading through complex challenging change, so often we pour into our teams, we pour into our organizations and forget to pour into ourselves. This one person that we’re going to rely upon more than anyone else in our entire life, we forget to give back to that person. And it’s so critical that we remember to do so. I have seen rockstar leaders leave an org organization because of burnout, because they continue pouring into their teams and not refilling their own tank. So as you think about this skill for yourself, I want you to ask yourself, are you searching for ways to improve? Maybe taking trainings, taking webinars, I can already tell that you’re already doing that because you’re in this conference. But are you continuing looking for ways to improve, ways to improve your skill sets?

And next, are you taking time for you on a regular basis? Are you taking time for you on a regular basis? Whether that be exercise, yoga, going for a walk, perhaps journaling, getting a latte. Are you taking time to fill your tank? And lastly, do you have something on your calendar this month to intentionally develop a skillset? Whether that be fine tuning a strength that you already have, or maybe strengthening an area that you want to strengthen, an opportunity area. So I want you to think about these questions for yourself, thinking about how you’re pouring into yourself, giving back to yourself when you’re leading and influencing through change and capture that action. And as you’re doing that, your second pop quiz. So atomic number six, atomic weight 12.011. Now again, don’t cheat, nobody cheat. Now for those of you who are not cheating and answered carbon, you are absolutely correct, carbon. This is the building block of life. We move from inorganic to organic chemistry with the introduction of carbon.

And just as carbon builds life, when you’re leading and influencing through change, you need to work on building your life, ensuring that you’re giving time for yourself to rest and reflect as well as learn and develop as you’re going through change and transformation. So capture that action item for yourself, capture the timing, and then let’s keep rocking.

Let’s keep rocking to authentic. Now this is probably my favorite skill of all six. For anyone who knows me, they know I got to be me all the time, every day. So as you think about bringing your full, authentic self, think about this quote from Uell S. Anderson. He’s one of my favorite authors. And he says that it’s only when we are our natural selves, that it’s possible for us to project the power and the mastery, which is innate in each and every one of us. Each and every one of you are in the role that you’re in, you’re sitting where you sit for a reason, to share your background, your experience, your personality, your energy, your flavor with the organization. And it’s when we’re going through challenging change that we need everybody bringing their best, their best solutions and their best ideas to reach change adoption, and achieve the change vision as quickly as possible.

So challenge yourself and ask yourself, are you allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your employees? Now I know this might be a little provocative or counterintuitive, but I have found that vulnerability is one of the most powerful tools when leading and influencing through change, because it creates an opportunity to connect, and it allows your employees, your peers to see your humanity and lets them know that you are bringing your authentic self. So often when we’re leading through change, we want to be known as the person who has all the answers, and nothing fazes us. But when you can share a bit of confident vulnerability that you yourself are experiencing some signal emotions rooted in the trust that you believe in the vision and the mission of the change, you can create that connection and you’ll get people behind you and following you.

So ask yourself, are you allowing yourself to be a little bit vulnerable to your teams and organizations? Next, are you bringing your full self into work each and every day, your full flavor, your style, your energy, your light? Like I said, you were hired for a reason, and that’s to bring your background, your unique experience and your perspective to your work. So make sure you’re doing that each and every day. And lastly, and this is another one that might be a little counterproductive or counterintuitive. And you might be wondering, why am I asking this under authentic, right?

But I need to make sure that you are ensuring your words and your behaviors are congruent because when we’re leading through change and we’re saying one thing but doing another, we lose that one factor that’s so important to get people on board with change vision, and that is trust. It is so important to nurture trust when you’re leading through change. And you do that by ensuring your words are congruent with your actions. So strive to make sure you have that congruence and that you’re showing up your full, authentic self, and you are genuine towards your organization, saying consistently what you’re doing. So think about this for yourself. Challenge yourself a little bit, capture that action item and your timing.

And then I got your next pop quiz. All right, so this is probably the most difficult one of the whole session. If anybody guesses this, I’m going to kind of think they might be cheating. So this is atomic number 85 and atomic weight 210. Rarely does everyone ever guess this. Astatine, if you see somebody answered this, I guess you can still pat yourself on the back. Astatine, so this is the rarest element on earth. Scientists assume there’s about 30 grams all in the Earth’s crust. And just as rare as Astatine is, so are you. There is no one in your organization that has your personality, your background, your knowledge, your experience, and your light. So when you’re going through change, share that. Come into your work shining as brightly as you can, bringing the best of yourself, your full, authentic self to everything that you do. Capture that action item for yourself. Then let’s keep rocking.

Let’s rock to not rigid, all right, agile. So these are two contributors of the Harvard Business Review. And they say that leadership is an improvisational art. You may be guided by an overarching vision, but what you actually do from moment to moment cannot be scripted as events unfold. You have to be agile. You have to be flexible. When we’re going and leading through change, again, the vision might be set, but the execution can change. And Jeff Bezos is wonderful about this, not being married to the execution, allowing that agility. So I want you to ask yourself, when you think about the skill for yourself, do you regularly stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone? You know, I like to invite my executives to always find hobbies and skills that they’re not comfortable with because when you do things that make you uncomfortable, you develop a muscle memory. So when you get in that uncomfortable space in your professional life, you remember, “Oh, I’ve been here before and I did that. I survived.”

So it becomes a level of getting comfortable and feeling those feelings of discomfort. So try to find those hobbies, those new skills, those new things to explore that make you a little bit uncomfortable, that you don’t have a lot of knowledge about to build that muscle memory. And then secondly, are there any biases or beliefs that I’m holding onto that maybe keeping you from embracing the change? You know, so often we have these both conscious and unconscious biases that make us have these blinders on, blinders not seeing the full potential, the full potential and the best solutions. Some of you might be thinking the only way to get work done is in a physical space, but perhaps challenge your thinking with everything that we’ve learned over the past year and a half on the new innovation, the way that people feel more autonomous and are able to grow even further in their careers by working remotely.

So how do you think about taking the best of both worlds as we advance forward in this hybrid way of working? Challenge those biases, challenge those beliefs in looking for the best solutions to reach your change missions. And then lastly, I would ask yourself, are you considering the perspectives of others as a part of your decision making process? Now I know there are times when you have to make quick decisions and you can’t get everybody in the room to actually input on that decision process. But when you can, invite others into that process. They will feel heard and they will feel like they’re a part of the change initiative. So when you can, invite the organization into that decision making process. Think about this for yourself, capture that action item.

And then I got your next pop quiz. All right, so atomic number 33 and atomic weight 74.922. I love this one. This is one of my favorites. Arsenic, this is a deadly poison, a deadly poison. So if you find that you have blinders on, you’re holding on to unconscious or conscious biases, you could be standing in the way of successful and efficient change adoption. So make sure that you’re not becoming the arsenic in your organization. You have that level of flexibility and agility when you’re leading or influencing through change.

Next, let’s go on to grateful. Gratitude, Mr. Mike Robbins, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a speaker, he’s an author. He says that appreciation is about people. It’s more about who they are than what they do, who they are than what they do. When you’re leading through change, and everyone is showing up, giving their best, it is so important that you shower those with appreciation, letting them know that you value who they are and what they’re bringing into the office every day.

So ask yourself, can you name someone who you’ve expressed appreciation towards recently? If I were to ask, put a name in the chat box of who you’ve expressed appreciation towards recently. Are you sending a note to offering some verbal appreciation to your employees, your peers, your clients or your customers? Are you doing that at least once a week? And then lastly, are you recognizing at least one thing that you are grateful for each and every day? You know, Peter McWilliams has said that emotion is energy in motion, energy in motion, and gratitude is one of the highest vibrating emotions. So the more that you can rest in that high vibrating energy, you’re going to show up the fullest and the brightest for your teams and your organizations.

So think about this for yourself. Think about your current gratitude practice, if there’s ways to improve it. Think about how you’re appreciating those around you. Capture that action and a timing. Then your next to last pop quiz, all right, atomic number 79, atomic weight 196.97. Fill up the chat box. Let me know what you think. What’s the chemical element? For those of you who did gold, pat yourself on the back. Gold, when we shower people with appreciation that are working hard, that are going through these challenging changes, it makes them feel valued and it makes them shine like 18 karat gold. So make sure you’re reaching out to find ways to show appreciation to your peers, direct reports and your customers.

Last, but certainly not least, empathetic. And the daring Brene Brown, Brene Brown teaches us that empathy is simply listening, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone. You know, when the organization is going through their signal emotions and you can sense that tension across the organization, the most powerful thing that you can do is hold space for those individuals to feel heard, to know that they are valued. So as you’re going through these changes, I want you to ask yourself, have you checked in with your direct reports to understand simply how they’re handling the changes? And are you frequently checking in to see how they’re managing it? I always invite my clients to put aside five minutes and everyone on one agenda. That’s simply a change check-in and all you’re doing is asking, “How are you doing? How are you managing the change?” And then you’re actively listening. You’re listening to understand how they’re managing the change. And then I want to challenge you to simply ask one question, “How can I support you? How can I support you as you move through this change?” And of course, listen to the response and follow up to make sure you’re taking that action to provide that support.

But when we can provide empathy, we can share that skill of empathy. It enables people feel valued to feel heard, and to know they’re not alone and that you were there walking with them through the change. So think about this for yourself, capture that action item, then your final pop quiz. Now this is the easiest of all of them. Everybody should be populating the chat box right now. Atomic number one, atomic weight 1.007, the first element on the periodic chart, hydrogen, hydrogen. This is the raw fuel of the stars. When we can display our empathy, holding space, allowing individuals to feel heard and to feel valued, you’re going to help them feel like a rockstar and enable them to unleash their inner rockstar when moving through change, when you hold space and allow them to be heard and support them through the change.

So think about this for yourself, capture that action item and your completion timing. Now, to wrap up, I just want to leave you with a what. What is it that I challenge you to do now that you’ve been armed with these skills, you have a personalized action plan and you have this knowledge of the change enthusiasm mindset? Well, just as a third step of change enthusiasm goes, each and every one of you are sitting in a seat of choice. It’s up to you, whether you’ll actually commit to those actions and actually embrace this mindset as your very own. And of course, it’s my hope that each and every one of you do just that. Now, for those of you who do, here’s my challenge to you. I want you to reach out to someone currently in this session, and I want you to do a little text message or a chat, and I want you to ask them to become your accountability partner.

Okay, and I want you to get on each other’s calendar in the next two to four weeks, take 15 minutes and learn what was it like taking those actions? What feelings were inspired? What actions came from them? Make a new connection, learn from somebody new, perhaps someone in a different business and a different industry, but hold yourselves accountable to actually committing to these actions. You’ve created these actions and it’s up to you to progress toward them. So my challenge, get yourself an accountability partner. Let’s hold each other accountable, moving forward. I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your attention, for your presence and for your engagement during the session.

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