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Balancing Have to + Want to: How to Reconnect to Purpose

By Dr. Vanessa AkhtarApril 19, 2023July 14th, 2023No Comments3 min read

There is a general preconceived notion that humans, innately, resist change. While this is true to some extent, it’s not the full picture. People tend to resist change when it’s seen as a threat or crisis, because it triggers our natural Survive response. On the other hand, when change is perceived as an opportunity – something novel, exciting, and meaningful – our natural Thrive response is triggered. When this happens, people not only accept change, they embrace it. From our research, we know there are a number of tactics, strategies, and principles that can help leaders intentionally foster a greater sense of Thrive.

One of these principles is balancing “have to” and “want to.” Change capable leaders recognize that any critical change initiative comes with some “have to” activities – required shifts in people’s roles and responsibilities and in how work gets done. But they also find opportunities for people to meaningfully contribute to initiatives based on their passion and skills, even when it falls outside their “day job.” For many leaders, the notion of dialing up “want to” sounds great on the surface but becomes much harder to put into practice.

An important first step is for you, as a leader, to create a sense of Thrive for yourself. Take a moment to pause – breaking away from the temptation to get caught up in the “go, go, go” of every day – and reconnect to your own purpose and “want to.” To do this, reflect on the following questions (and maybe even share your answers with a colleague, family member, or friend):

In your working life…

  • When was a time you felt especially energized, involved, or empowered?
  • What is something you really looked forward to, or are looking forward to now?
  • What is something you feel especially fortunate that you get to do?

Once you’ve had a chance to tap into your own sense of “want to,” consider taking your team through a similar exercise. Use this as a chance to both build energy and to uncover what motivates and inspires individuals on your team. This will help you identify and create additional opportunities to create a stronger sense of “want to” (and perhaps even “get to”) moments for your team members.

The more you, and your team, can tap into this “want to” energy, the less overwhelming “have to” activities are likely to feel. This will help mitigate the strength of people’s Survive response and activate a stronger Thrive response – allowing you to catalyze action, from many, many more people, toward key changes you are driving.

You can take a deeper dive into this principle by registering for Kotter’s seminal certification course, Foundations of Change: