Change / transformation Leadership

Change, like nature, is unstoppable … and devastating to the unprepared

St. Louis is a river town. The Mississippi River is its eastern boundary, separating the city from Illinois. To the west and north flows the Missouri River, winding its way east until it meets the Mississippi just north of the city. To the south is the Meramec River, which empties into the Mississippi just downstream from St. Louis. Within those boundaries are countless smaller rivers, creeks and streams. Levees, dikes and dams are everywhere, built to keep the water in check and humanity dry.

Occasionally, though, nature lets us know who’s really in charge and reminds us of this undeniable truth: The water will not be stopped.

We learned that lesson in 1993 during one of the most devastating floods in American history. We’re learning it again now as the wettest year in St. Louis history comes to a close with another round of near-historic flooding.

Despite lesson after heartbreaking lesson, though, we’re notorious for our ability to forget what we’ve learned. We keep building and buying homes in flood plains, trusting that lightning won’t strike twice, or that we can outmaneuver it when it does.

We can’t. The waters win every time.

Change is a lot like those floodwaters — relentless, unstoppable, inevitable, and devastating to the unprepared.

We treat change in much the same way we treat nature: We convince ourselves that we are in charge, that we can build levees and hold back the water with a wall of denials:

  • “This won’t impact me.”
  • “What I’ve always done has always worked. It will keep working.”
  • “When the waters recede, it’ll be business as usual.”

In the end, though, change wins out. It always does.

  • It impacts you — in every way imaginable.
  • What you’ve always done will continue to work, sure … until it doesn’t. In the words of leadership expert Emmanuel Gobillot, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
  • When the waters recede, all you’ve ever known will be gone. Business as usual will no longer be an option.

Your only hope is to anticipate change before it washes you away — to see what’s coming and position yourself to not only survive the flood but to thrive when the waters recede.

To head for higher ground, in other words — before the flood hits, not after.


William D. Sheridan