Category Archives: Change Management

Leadership, Courage & The Small “t” truth

Group of Multiethnic Business People in Meeting

In a prior posting my business partner, Debra Bowles, expressed the courage it took to speak her small “t”  truth in front of her executive peers in response to a CEO’s inquiry.  I am often struck by the use of the word courage in business today and curious if the word is used in a way that encourages leadership in a positive manner or whether it is so loaded with mis-meaning that the actual experience of courage is impaired.

One reason that courage may not convey a felt sense is the dictionary’s definition reflects idealized social attributes or affected social attributes instead of human ones. Words such as pluck, nerve, valor, daring, and guts… are nice ideals, but all of us know from experience, that when courage is called for it is much more impactful and transcendent than the dictionary definitions.

So what gives?  When is leadership courageous and when is it not? read more

The Power of the small “t” truth


I was raised to respect authority, almost to a fault, and my Dad spoke most of the Truth in our family.   I was a senior executive in a large organization for 14 years and there was much Truth spoken with great belief and force.  I am intentionally using a capital T because to me it designates an opinion or belief that is spoken with strong conviction, yet is rarely open for other opinions, input or honest dialogue.   Capital “T” Truth can stifle innovation and collaboration with a single sentence.

In the Four-Fold Way, Angeles Arrien developed four principles to provide clarity for thriving in today’s complex world of constant change.1 Her third principle is: read more

When Leading Change, There is No End Zone

Doing change work there always comes a point early on, when structural changes have been announced and are almost complete, that someone will say, “Okay, the change is done. Now let’s get back to business.” This is the moment when I tell them (after chuckling to myself) that now the hard work begins in earnest. When it comes to leading change, there are yard markers and milestones; but there is no end zone.

It is now almost cliché to say that change is constant. And, it is true. We need to adopt a change mindset that acknowledges this reality. When the change takes the form of a particular initiative (a reorganization, a merger, or acquisition), changing the structure or systems and processes is the easy part. The fact that some think that this is what change entails is indicative of what needs as much, if not more, of our attention if we are to lead change successfully.

Adopting a change mindset moves us to see change as normative and ongoing. A change mindset enables us to see that change efforts must address cultural issues and leadership and workforce development as well as structure and systems and processes. This mindset has built into it a flexibility and willingness to make adjustments to implementing change. It also has built into it an intentional and continuous curiosity about how people are engaging and performing in relationship to change.

Knowing that change is normative and ongoing also moves us to develop a skill set that supports our continuous work as change leaders. I think there are five skills we want to develop if we want to be adept at leading change.

Managing Complexity – We want to be able to find meaning in confusion, think strategically, and solve problems quickly.

Innovating – We want to be able to promote creativity and positive disruption.

Communicating – We want to be able to design, convene, and host necessary and important conversations.

Executing – We want to be able to set goals and objectives and direct operations to achieve them.

Transforming – We want to be able to generate awareness and promote growth in ourselves and others.

A change mindset and a solid leadership skill set will support us in leading change over the long haul. It’s vital that we are working toward this goal; because, change is never done. Getting back to business means getting ready for the next change. And the next. And the next. There is no end zone.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

If you have kids then you know that they have this need for instant gratification. They want something. They want their way. They want it now. In our house we would respond to the tantrum, the rant, the whine, the pleading by saying, “You know what Mick Jagger says. You can’t always get what you want.”

In life and at work, we get into a rhythm and we want things to go the way we want. Guess what? Mick’s lesson applies to us as well. As we plan for the future and as we imagine our career we don’t always get what we want. In an environment typified by constant change and ever-increasing complexity this becomes truer every day.

Being too old or self-conscious to throw a tantrum, rant, whine, or plead to the universe, what are we to do? How can we respond to the curves that get thrown our way? It’s not so simple as “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” And, it’s not so difficult as quantum mechanics either.

We need a way to deal with change that keeps us from firing before we aim and making a challenging situation even worse. Here’s how to AIM:

Step Zero. Breathe. You’d be surprised how beneficial two to five minutes of focused breathing can be in calming our minds. Self-soothing is something we teach our kids to do and is a foundation of emotional intelligence: self-regulation.

Step One. Attend. Be present. Pay attention to the world around you. What opportunities can you exploit today? What risks are right in front of you and need to be avoided?

Step Two. Imagine. Get creative. Don’t jump from reactivity to action. Consider all the possibilities in front of you. What are the ways you might exploit the opportunities you see? What are the ways you might avoid the risks in your path? What are the implications for each option you see?

Step Three. Move. Don’t take too long to get calm, focused, and clear about what needs to happen. Develop a plan of attack and go after it.

After all, while you can’t always get what you want, you just might find, that when you breathe, and AIM, you get what you need.

Change Leadership

I had an exchange with a leader a while back in which he stated, “I can’t wait until things get back to normal around here.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “Well, once we get done with all this ‘change stuff’ and get back to our jobs.” If there was ever a coaching moment, this was it! I asked him to consider that what he was experiencing was, in fact, the “new normal.” He didn’t like that. Then I asked him to consider what he and his colleagues would need to do or stop doing if this was in fact their new normal. He didn’t like that either. Then I asked him to evaluate whether they (himself included) could make the personal and collective shifts necessary to lead in this new normal. A look of intense worry came over his face. “We clearly have some work to do,” he said.

It is settled law that the “Status Quo” is dead. In the 21st century business environment, change is like the weather; it just is. And the other shoe is that the pace of change is increasing. The next ten years will make the last 50 look like we’ve been standing still.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. However, I would like to pose a question: What is the implication of this reality on how we lead and conduct business in the 21st century? I believe successful change is vitally dependent upon strong leadership. Strong leadership doesn’t wait for a crisis to require change. Strong leadership creates a resilient organization with a foundation and capacity to handle any contingency that arises. This will require us to think about both change and leadership differently.

How will we build organizations that are resilient, that not only tolerate change, but thrive in it? How will we build organizations with strong and shared leadership that leads through change without missing a step? A change mindset and strong leadership skill set will be the key differentiators for organizational success in the years ahead. We clearly have some work to do.

Tapping into the “Adjacent Possible”

 |  Change Management, Leadership

There was a terrific piece in the WSJ on Saturday. In an excerpt from the soon to be published Where Good ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson writes about “the adjacent possible.” “The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation. The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

In business, I see a couple enemies of the adjacent possible that may hinder its being tapped and thereby impede innovation and successful change. First, is our inability to collaborate well. Collaboration is bringing the contribution of each individual fully to the conversation so that decisions are balanced, informed, appropriate, and will produce a high degree of engagement, commitment, action, and accountability. What passes for collaboration in most corporations today is a string of monologues as people passively observe the presentations of others, usually in the form of large powerpoint slide decks. We share our output with others; we do not share our process. Johnson writes, “The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts.” Our tendency to not engage in collaborative inquiry hinders our capacity to tap the adjacent possible.

Another enemy of the adjacent possible is the pace at which we move through our days, weeks, months, and quarters. We tell ourselves that the world never sleeps. We must keep moving. We can’t afford to slow down to reflect. We can’t afford to engage others in collaborative inquiry. We can’t afford to look carefully at what’s going on around us. We can’t afford to explore too many options in our search for the optimal solution.

I believe that we can’t afford not to slow down to reflect, to engage others in collaborative inquiry, to look carefully at what’s going on around us, to explore all our options in order to find the optimal solution rather than the obvious one. The delusion that we cannot slow down keeps us collaborating as much as we could and should. The delusion that we cannot slow down keeps us downloading old solutions on new problems and challenges. And so we miss the adjacent possible and the chance to reinvent ourselves, our teams, our organizations and our world.

On Embracing Change

 |  Change Management, Leadership

Today, President Obama signed into law a bill that reforms America’s health care system. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you may occupy, this is significant change. We’ll leave the political debate to another time and place. I’d like to talk about change and our relationship to it.

Most of us would say that change is good. And, still most of us don’t like to change. We change constantly when we are younger without even thinking about it. We change physically, cognitively, emotionally, and psychologically as we age and learn. As we get older, we become settled and more and more resistant to change. We like things the way they are. We become comfortable. We know where everything is. This is a precarious mindset to maintain in today’s world. It is a dangerous mindset for leaders.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers said recently, “Change is great when it happens to somebody else. When it happens to us, it makes us uncomfortable. And yet, countries, companies or individuals who do not change will be left behind.” Truer words were never spoken. So what is Chambers saying? I believe he is calling us to be uncomfortable. If we want to be leaders in this new economy we need to look for ways to lead change and not react to it. We need to recapture the openness and curiosity of youth and be willing to be uncomfortable.

I hear many people I work with talk about wanting to find balance. Balance is easy when we are standing still. It is much more difficult when we are moving. In life and business today, we are almost never standing still; and if we are, that means someone is passing us by. I counter that we should not seek balance; we should seek to get better at the act of balancing while we keep moving forward. We don’t have the luxury of standing still.

I’m not advocating change for change’s sake. I am saying that we must always examine the status quo with open eyes and a willingness to push ourselves and others out of our comfort zones to produce positive change. The mindset that serves us best when it comes to change is the mindset of openness and curiosity. This is the mindset of ongoing learning. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t leading.

Leadership is not about having all the answers all the time. Leadership is about gathering the right people and harnessing the right resources to create positive change. When leaders do this, they are in no danger of being “left behind.” On the contrary, they are out in front, embracing change, managing the correlative anxiety of uncertainty, and dealing with their own discomfort in order to help others with theirs. There is an amount of discomfort associated with any change. If we are to lead, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

More on Change

 |  Change Management

The dominant topic for our clients in all verticals at the moment is change.  This is the overriding business imperative all are facing: The way we work is changing. How do we lead change rather than react to it?

There are three essential components to leading change successfully.

1.     Create a compelling vision of the future. Where do you want to go? What is the case for going there? How will you measure success along the way and at the end?

2.     Align thought and action. Is there clarity about what will be done to realize the vision, who’s doing what, and by when? Is there a common language and process tool kit for leading change embedded with leaders at every level to ensure consistency in execution?

3.     Grow leaders at every level. Do you have leaders who are agile and adaptable? Are your growing your capacity at every level to sustain high engagement and high performance?

Only you know how prepared you or your organization are to lead change. Too many negative responses to the questions above may be a sign that there are conversations with your key stakeholders to agree the vision, create alignment, and grow your capacity that need to occur.  As many organizations are entering the last quarter of their fiscal year, the time is to ripe to define the future state, analyze the current state, and build a cohesive and comprehensive plan to frame the transition from where you are to where you want to be – in short, to lead change.