Have you ever thought about how you tie your shoelaces? Probably not. Like me, you learned how to tie shoes when you were young and don’t even think about it. I bought some new shoes late last year and found my shoelaces constantly undone. Perhaps it was the shoelace material. Or the shoelaces needed to be longer for my standard shoe-tying approach. Whenever I put these shoes on, I found myself hunched over them more frequently. Instead of tying my shoes once or twice a day, I felt like I was tying the same shoes seven or eight times.
I felt frustrated.
There must be a better way to tie shoelaces. While researching online, I came across Ian’s excellent Shoelace Site. I discovered that, indeed, my default approach was suboptimal. There were *so* many better ways.
Now that I knew there was a better way, I faced a different problem. Each time I went to put on my shoes, my hands fell into their old shoe-tying habit. It felt faster to tie the shoelaces the way I’d always done it. Using a different approach and checking step-by-step felt slow. Even though I had read Ian’s site, I’d use my old technique because it was faster. Of course, this didn’t help me, and when I put on these shoes, I stooped over many times a day.
Still no change. How frustrating!
At some point, I couldn’t take it anymore. I set aside 15 minutes daily for an entire week, practising tying and untying my shoelaces with the new approach. By the end of that week, I found myself defaulting to my new shoelace-tying approach. More importantly, I only found myself tying my shoelaces once a day. 🎉
I’m sharing my shoelace story because it offers some great lessons learned if you are trying to lead people through change (including yourself!). Here are some of my reflections:
- Better doesn’t mean useful – Even though you think your approach/idea/tool is better than what others are using, others may not necessarily see the need for a slightly better solution. What they are using might be adequate for their needs.
- Change starts with annoyance/pain – Everyone can deal with a certain amount of annoyance and pain. Tying my shoes an extra one or two times a week wasn’t a big deal, but needing to do this several times a day was *really* annoying.
- Any improvement must be significant – Even though I had learned new shoe-tying techniques from Ian’s site, I still leaned into old habits. It was easier to tie my shoes in the way I knew until I grew extremely frustrated.
- Improvement requires slowing down – Learning a new skill takes time. Knowing a better approach doesn’t matter if you cannot apply it. People must take the time to learn the skill to pass the beginner stage, where everything is slow and feels extra painful. Only when they gain enough experience through feedback, repetition and practice can they reap the benefits of an improvement. In my case, it required daily practice for an entire week to form a new habit.
All leaders need to lead people through change. Your change might be adopting a new tool, way of working, or organisational structure. Along the way, you will find many reasons why the change doesn’t work, so keep in mind that each person is dealing with their own shoelace story.
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