Change is everywhere, in business as in life. We are all attracted to change, but to a certain extent, we are also all afraid of change. Even if change is unavoidable and somehow natural, it is still one of the most difficult things to manage, in both our personal or professional lives. From a business point of view, although change management is already a challenge to any kind of leader and enterprise – from startups to large multinationals – there’s an even bigger challenge on the horizon: transforming change management into a source of inspiration for employees.

Having read a lot about change, and having discussed the topic with many change professionals, by now I know a lot about the subject. From the difference between good and bad change, to the mistakes we should avoid and the lessons we can draw from experiencing change. Despite coming across numerous approaches to change, I have always felt there was something missing: the “WHY”, meaning the reason for change. The purpose of change is about a destination, the end game that we can only imagine because it’s not real yet; it doesn’t exist in the present. It’s the ultimate picture of the future that only free will, desire, aspirations, and dreams can generate. This is the part of change that I hadn’t found in any book or speech, and this is precisely the aspect of change that I believe is deeply inspirational.

So let me share my interpretation of change with you.

Aristotle said: “Nature of man is not what he was born as, but what he is born for”. According to this definition, human nature is forward-looking, is about potential to be unfolded, it’s like a “promise of what we’ll be”. This promise is intercultural and unconditional: it doesn’t depend on things like income, job title, the language we speak, or any other distinguishing factor. Nor does it say anything about our family and all the other closest conditions that can possibly influence and determine our life. This definition is simply about us: you, me. More precisely, it’s about me in a certain moment in time in my life (birth, first day of school, master’s degree, first failure or success, 40th birthday party) and me in another moment in the future, a condition that I can’t describe or define like the first one, since I don’t know it yet, because it doesn’t exist yet. But my nature wants to go to “this place”.

CONCLUSION 1 Human nature aims to find its realisation in life

Some sort of change is needed to realise ourselves, but we need to choose the right change. This is the tricky part: change occurs naturally in life, and it’s inevitable. It’s up to us to choose the right change; it’s up to us to give change the right direction. So, we now stand at a “crossroads of change”. At any given moment in our lives, we are standing at this crossroads, and it’s nothing more than a list of three choices that each of us has at any time in our life:

  1. We can decide to stay where we are;

  2. We can decide to be what others tell us to be or what the environment around us pushes us to be;

  3. We can decide to become what we want to be.

The first choice is about maintaining the status quo. The second choice is about changing as a result of an external cause. The third choice is about realising our full potential, or being the best that we can possibly be.

Each one of these three choices results in a change; this is clear in the second and third case. But also in the first situation, because should we decide to maintain the status quo, it doesn’t mean that others must do the same (our partner, children, friends, competitors, the industry, the market). This results in a change wherein others move forward and we go backwards (this is the cruel law of the benchmark!).

Therefore, if change comes from each of these situations, one can ask: can we be inspired by one of these choices? The answer is yes for the third type of change. Only the third type of change is not a “lack of a real choice” or a “reactive choice”, but a “choice driven by pure will”. Only the third type of change gives you an answer to the questions: “what is the purpose of change?” and “what do I want to become through this change?” This change can inspire because it leads to the best that we can possibly be; it leads to our full potential as individuals.

CONCLUSION 2 There is only one inspirational change: the one leading to our full potential

Of course, not everything is so simple; otherwise we would have a lot of traffic jams along this path, whereas usually the first two paths are the most crowded. The challenge here is that the first choice isn’t that difficult to make, the second one may require some effort on our part, but the third one is a huge pile of hard work! There’s no room for mistakes here; this one is a difficult commitment to make! It’s a commitment that demands determination, focus and overcoming setbacks to complete the journey of change. Remember, the highest mountain requires the highest sacrifice.

CONCLUSION 3  The most inspiring change is also the most difficult to carry out

Now, what exactly is this precious gift at the end of a life spent pursuing inspirational change, which ultimately resembles a cycle of trying, falling, rising-up and trying again? What is this full potential, what is this “best that you can possibly be”, and how can you recognise it and be sure to find it? Maybe there’s no “one answer”. Nevertheless, let me try. The meaning of full potential is disclosed to us and becomes clear to our eyes only at the end of our journey. The full potential is the ultimate return on capital that we’ll be able to measure only at the end of a lifetime worth of investment (or gambles, if you prefer). Only in that moment will we know if we did the job or not, if we made the right decision, or if we did the right thing. But one thing is sure: if we don’t make that investment in our full potential, there’s no way we can possibly achieve it.

So let’s wrap up.

  1. There is only one type of change that can inspire people: the change that is required to fulfil our potential as individuals. That is to become the best that we can possibly be;

  2. This change is inspiring because it speaks to the nature of human beings; it’s universal. I truly believe that every human being wants to make a difference in life. Nobody is living life just to achieve a list of KPIs!

  3. That’s why for me, helping others achieve their full potential is the boulevard to introducing change in an organisation, wherever you are and whatever the organisation is (for profit or not).

Here’s one last question to think about: who has the responsibility of introducing such inspiring change within an organisation? In other words, what is required to do this? The answer is leadership. Inspiring change that helps us achieve our full potential is the most powerful skill of a leader.

Federico Tonetti

Federico Tonetti is CEO at Lafargeholcim in Poland with significant experience in Leadership and Transformation Management

Federico Tonetti is CEO at Lafargeholcim in Poland with significant experience in Leadership and Transformation Management