I was thrilled to be invited back to partner once again with a US/Japanese joint venture steel mill that I helped start-up in the early 1990s.  As their union-management leadership team informed me, many of the “old timers” who started up the place with me are retiring, and they want to ensure that the very unique – and highly successful – team-based work culture lives on for the next generation.  We’re working together to re-energize the culture and mentor the new recruits to continue to be world-class into the next many decades.

During one of my recent meetings at the plant, a furnace operator was sharing his perspective on the root cause of some of the problems with the work culture, and why there is a gap between our initial vision and current reality.  His passion was palpable in how he talked about the people and the founding work culture ideals.  He talked about how one of the former plant managers had damaged the system, taking away resources, and trying to revert to a more autocratic, top-down managerial approach.

That plant manager has not worked in the
steel mill for over five years!

What leapt to my mind was the old story about the two Buddhist monks:

A young monk and his older mentor were walking in the woods.  They came across a fast-running river.  A woman was standing on the side of the river, and could not cross it.  The old monk carried her across, set her down on the other side, and the two monks continued on their journey.

Later that night the young monk, who had been visibly disturbed since the encounter with the woman, exclaimed to his mentor, “we’re monks – so are forbidden to touch women – how could you do so?!” To which the old monk replied, “I let her go hours ago – but you are still carrying the weight of her on your back!”

Similarly, the furnace operator was carrying around the weight of the former plant manager.  What he was doing, fundamentally, was being burdened by a weight that had been shed years ago.  He was giving away his power to this other person, who had moved on long ago.

When we talk about moving through change – from “current to future state” – so often we point to some variant of Lewin’s classic model:

First we are to unfreeze – to let go of something from the past.  Often, the focus is on letting go of something that has been perceived as good, something valuable, something that has worked well for us.  We are advised to acknowledge and even grieve the loss.

However, taking charge of change is also often about “letting go” of the negative – of our lingering grievances and resentments.  Holding on to old wounds – and blaming others who inflicted those wounds – disempowers us to move forward proactively and positively.  At some point we need to “stop admiring the problem” and focus on solutions!

This is a lesson I’ve learned – and had to relearn – many times in my professional and personal life.  This incident caused me to ask myself these questions, which might benefit you as well – try them out and send me an email to let me know:

  What would be to your advantage to let go of to move forward?

   Who in your current life or past might you be giving away your power to?

   What are you holding on to that’s preventing positive progress – reflect on potentially limiting beliefs, limiting behaviors, limiting habits, outmoded ways of thinking or acting or relating to others that are no longer serving you – or those you were meant to serve?

Let go to get going!