I asked several practitioners whom I respect to write guest posts about how they relate to two previously released series: Character/Presence and Cultivating Character. Marco Manucci, a seasoned professional in our field, is the third contributor to this series.

The Impact of Character and Presence on the Quality of the Change Process

marcelomanucci010by Marcelo Manucci

If we are to reflect on our character (our true nature), we must consider that, in the process of change, two subjectivities meet:

  • The subjective world of the people who are involved in the change process
  • The subjective world of the change practitioners who guide the process of change

What is the importance of our “character” during these encounters? At these junctures, our skills as change agents serve to guide the process technically. In this sense, “what we do” involves the technical dimension of the process. By contrast, “who we are” is the frame that contains our subjective world. The subjective world of the change practitioner is the platform we use to understand and manage our relationships with others. Therefore, reflection on the aspects that compose our character is fundamental to the quality of relationships and their impact on the success of the process.

I think it is necessary to strengthen our character as change practitioners because it is the essence of our uniqueness that ultimately determines whether we generate meaningful benefits for clients. Why? Essentially, people act based on inner experiences (their subjective world), a change process is not a simple application of pieces within an objective structure of predictable behavior. By contrast, a change process transforms the environment; this has an impact on cognitive, emotional, and daily habits.

Because of this, we must recognize that our character is important to the quality of the process of change. A change practitioner who doesn’t understand the impact of both “who we are” and “what we do” in the management of change can fall into one of three traps in which his or her ability to succeed is put at risk:

  • The trap of pride
  • The trap of hypocrisy
  • The trap of deceit

The Trap of Pride

This appears when change agents do not recognize the nature of “who we are” and act as autocrats, forcing changes in the group. The consequence is that the group rejects the interventions and the process does not achieve effective results that are sustained over time.

How do we fall into the “trap of pride”? When change practitioners do not recognize “who we are,” they ignore the impact of the subjective world on their interactions and act from a position of pride, or ego. A change facilitator acting this way unconsciously activates the values, belief, and perceptions of others. The risk of this indifference about the impact of our true nature in the relationship can lead the practitioner to force his or her perspective of reality. As a result, the change facilitator imposes his or her own “truth” and ignores the dynamics of the values and beliefs of the group.

However, every human system attempts to maintain its status quo, its own dynamic of life. People who face a situation that is dominated by another’s pride will resist change. So, in this power struggle, the system will try to accommodate all external roles (including the change practitioners) within its own dynamics. If change practitioners do not recognize “who we are,” but instead act from a stereotyped role of “what we do,” they will generate an autocratic process. Therefore, they are forcibly pressing the group to change.

Under these conditions, the transformation process turns into a battle between pride and resistance. The group closes to the possibilities of change, reducing the impact of change practitioners to zero.

The Trap of Hypocrisy

This happens when change agents project a fake “presence” that does not reflect who they truly are. An unreal “presence” creates mistrust in the group. Thus, relationships become empty of meaning and the process loses fluidity and commitment.

Confidence is the most important capital in a process of change. Managing confidence is essential to building committed relationships. People do not leave their known world to venture into the unknown if they do not trust those accompanying them, and those who are guiding them. Confidence is a state of mind that must be built into the relationship between people and change facilitators.

Why do we fall into the trap of hypocrisy? When a change agent projects a fictitious presence—communication adorned with superficial techniques—it may result in superficial human relationships without commitment to the process. The result is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the code of the symptoms in human systems, because symptoms are masks that hide the real cause of a problem. The symptom shows some aspects of the system while hiding others. In this sense, the hypocrisy is a game of masks that reinforces superficial relationships.

The effective difference when we project a presence that reflects our genuine character versus a fake presence is confidence versus hypocrisy. A fictitious presence increases the risk of hypocrisy in relationships. Superficial relationships reinforce the symptoms. The trap of hypocrisy is sustained by living in a parallel world, a fictional world that does not generate genuine changes in the system. The system “entertains” with exercises, reports, documents, and many activities, but in reality, it does nothing to generate other living conditions.

The Trap of Deceit

This appears when change practitioners are indifferent to their responsibility to keep clear the demand for transformation in the group. They fail to be attuned to the emotions of the group, and let the change process be the sole path they are following. They yield to what the client expects of them, rather than working with the client to achieve what is needed. This point has an ethical connotation because, in this case, change practitioners do not respect their own “character” and “presence” and simply shape the work according to the demands of the client.

In any process of change, the human group imposes a rhythm on project development. This internal rhythm is marked by emotions: fear, confidence, enthusiasm, trust, comprehension difficulties, resistance, and so on. Human groups pass through different moods. The openness or resistance of the group to advance the process depends on the management of those internal factors (emotions) that determine the dynamics of the system.

Change facilitators fall into the trap of deceit when they mold themselves to the group’s demands without clarifying the real purpose of the change. We must manage the demand of circumstantial emotions to guide the group toward a clear course. Otherwise, we will be lost in the process along with the group. When change facilitators become indifferent to the real purpose of change, they cannot understand the emotional responses of the group. This indifference can lead to automatic or stereotyped decisions. On the one hand, the process is rejected because it appears the organization is not in charge of the process. On the other hand, the agent assumes control over the process, personally taking charge of the group’s decisions.

Two Questions for Keeping Character and Presence Engaged

Change practitioners must be careful not to address human groups using stereotypes, that will inhibit transformation possibilities. The fundamental question is, “How does one maintain a position of integrity, and at the same time, respect, hold, and accompany the group in its transformation process?”

In this sense, addressing human systems with a balance of “who we are” and “what we do” is a strategic advantage in the process of transformation. Here are two key questions to keep the principles of our character and presence actively engaged in the management of change:

  1. What is the real demand for change within the system? Do not be fooled by the complaints of the group and circumstantial emotions that cloud the true purpose of change.
  2. How can you maintain the transformation possibilities of the system? Do not be fooled by promises of change or the pendulum swing of behaviors within the group (from euphoria to despair and back again).

These questions connect change practitioners to their roles and responsibilities in the process. The convergence of character and presence allows working with the group to transform living conditions, without generating change by force.

Marcelo Manucci

Marcelo works in change management processes and emotional management of the transformations in human systems. He is an academic in several universities in Latin America and Spain. Marcelo is an international speaker on issues of change management, organizational development in unstable environments and competitive human talent. His methodology integrates principles of sciences of complexity, systems thinking, and neuroscience.

He has served as a consultant on various strategic development projects for civil and commercial organizations in Latin America.

Marcelo holds a doctorate in Communication Sciences (Usal) Argentina. He is a psychologist (UNR) with post-graduate work in Cognitive Neuroscience (Favaloro University) and has training in Systemic Therapy and Psychodrama.

He has also completed post-graduate training in marketing, corporate image, communication, and advertising (UBA) Argentina.

He is the author of six books:

  • Maps of complexity. Uncertainty, strategy, and leadership. Editorial Académica Española. 2012
  • Contingencies. Five challenges of change for a new decade. Grupo Editorial Norma. 2010.
  • Corporate Impact: Designing strategic corporate communications for unstable contexts. Crujía editions. 2008.
  • The strategy of the four circles: Designing the future of this uncertainty. Grupo Editorial Norma. 2006.
  • Caught in the present. Communication is a tool for building corporate future. CIESPAL. Quito, 2005.
  • Strategic Corporate Communications. Of persuasion to create shared realities. SAF Group. Bogotá, 2004.

You can reach Marcelo at manucci@estrategika.com.ar.

Next: Guest Post—Connecting the Dots Between Character, Presence, and  Client Effectiveness