My husband and I are in the middle of renovating in our 1941 home, gutting two bathrooms and transforming the basement into something cave-ish.  I went for man-cave but my husband says the white leather chair and white furry pillow make it woman-ish, so the room-naming jury is still out.

Neither of us relishes the construction, though I can promise you it is far harder on him since his office is at home. By proxy, he takes on the lion's share of thankless tasks, acting really as contractor to the contractor. You know what I mean. He is the one calling to see if the electrical inspection is actually going to happen; whether the tile will be in by Tuesday; whether we ordered polished or brushed nickel faucets. Our marriage has survived two, far more extensive projects (in one, we slept in the the dining room for six months while our daughter lived in the basement) but it doesn't make it one iota less miserable the third time around.

It struck me this morning as I was walking across the foyer floor (protected by taped-together cardboard remnants to keep the dust and grime of work boots from ruining the rug) that the challenges of renovating a house run in perfect parallel to the difficulties we face during change initiatives at work. 

How painful is it to go through a big change project? Let me think. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being on-time and under-budget, and 10 being excruciatingly drawn out, horribly expensive and filled with impossible obstacles, most major projects are...a 15. 

And yet in spite of our experience with projects, our expectations are quite unrealistic. "This time will be different," we quietly promise ourselves. "I have the right people, a plan, a budget, meetings and milestones. I have this thing covered."

And then the dust starts flying and the noise level climbs 200 decibels and we curl into the fetal position, waking up every morning in a state of irritation.

I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review the other day about replacing harmful thought patterns with helpful ones. Hear me out here, it's worth considering. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management life coach, says you can develop successful thought patterns by avoiding obsessive thinking. That would be, for example, believing that you can control everything (you can't) or that it has to be perfect (it won't be) or that activities always go as planned (they never do). 

People, we know this.  But we also believe somehow that WE are the exception to the rule.  That WE can change how the universe works. That WE can avoid pain. And we can't.

We can achieve. We can prevail. We can and will be able to stand back at some point in the future and admire our handiwork. But when you are in the middle, you are in the middle, and thats just where you are. There is no such thing as painless change.

As leaders, we not only have to be able to negotiate the dust, noise and chaos ourselves; we have to keep everybody else's eyes on the prize, every single day. We need to communicate realistic expectations while keeping people motivated, by painting a picture of that future state. This ability to manage our own and others' expectations, energizing people to work toward a goal, makes us successful and perhaps as important, allows us to exist each day in a happier, more peaceful state. 

Now, back to my house.  As "caves" go...I believe the dark gray walls and shag carpet definitely qualify that room as a man-cave. But my guess is that the naming rights may never be resolved. It will remain a cozy room with a fuzzy identity. I can live with that. Because some things just aren't in my control.

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