Three Pillars of Sustainable Change: Empathy, Trust and Patience

Change and change management was yesterday. Today we are doing transformations. A digital transformation for business models, because data is the new oil. An agile transformation for the organization and its processes, because flexibility and speed are essential in times of great uncertainty. Unfortunately often only the name has changed and where it is labelled with transformation it actually contains very traditional – and very tayloristic – change management. That’s why panaceas and blueprints are on the rise: simply introduce LeSS or SAFe or copy Spotify and call this your agile transformation. However, this completely ignores the nature of a transformation as a natural development process of a complex system in favor of a pattern that has so far only worked reasonably well, but is at least well-known and appears well manageable: simply transforming the organization and the people in it like a complicated machine. Accompanied, of course, by all kinds of “change theatre”, because somehow you have to win the people. A successful transformation that deserves this name, however, is based on visions instead of blueprints. Ideally, it is supported by all and led with empathy, trust and patience.


People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!
Peter Senge

No matter how digital the transformation may seem, at its core it is always about people. The people therefore have to be at the centre of every transformation. The people as humans with their talents, hopes and fears and not the people as means of production and cogs in a machine-like organization. This is precisely why the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership was created as summary of the new role of leadership in times of transformation. And it is no coincidence that it focuses on people.

Leadership begins with self-leadership and self-awareness: Only those who can lead themselves can lead others. This is the basis for true empathy, i.e. the ability and willingness to recognize and understand the feelings, thoughts, emotions, motives and personality traits of another person.. Without empathy, every transformation remains a cold and soulless change theatre, celebrated to make the transformation of the organizational machinery more tolerable for the affected cogwheels.


Trust is an oasis of the heart that is never reached by the caravan of thought.
Khalil Gibran

In essence, every transformation is a journey with an uncertain outcome. The vision of digital business models or an agile organization or both is the North star and points the way. The What and How, however, must first be explored and tried out in detail. And for this, it does not require a few managers but rather the wisdom, experience and creativity of all those affected. It is all about encouraging curiosity, courage and creativity. It’s about letting yourself be surprised. And it is about enduring failures and learning together. All this is based on trust. You have to trust in people’s motivation and potential.


Rush is the opposite of patience: impatiently it seeks to accelerate what actually takes its time.
Jürgen Dahl

In our economy, which is so focused on short-term figures and success, we have somewhat lost the virtue of patience. On the other hand, everything takes time and natural processes in particular cannot be accelerated: Nine women can’ t deliver a baby in a month using the picture from Fred Brook’s magnificent book “The Mythical Man-Month”. And tomatoes don’t grow faster if a manager supervises and motivates them. Everything takes time. This trivial insight marks the beginning of every sustainable transformation. There are no abbreviations, panaceas or blueprints. The key to a successful transformation is to withstand the pressure to deliver short-term success and to empathetically and confidently give people the space and time to learn and grow together.

Stop trying to borrow wisdom and think for yourself. Face your difficulties and think and think and think and solve your problems yourself. Suffering and difficulties provide opportunities to become better. Success is never giving up.
Taiichi Ohno

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