If You’re Not A Change Maker … Who Are You?

“Leave or stay and grow b@lls”

That was my advice to leaders faced with having to change their perspective to become flexible, useful and stay competitive in the new way of the work-world on this “How to stay flexible and be agile” Cloudbusting podcast. I’ve been waiting for it to come out to “talk” to you guys about a couple of things that stuck with me from the interaction and some -potentially terrifying!- thinking I’ve done as a result. It was one of those serendipitous moments where it’s part swearing, part laughter, part loud meeting of the minds (and the latter doesn’t always imply agreeing but often satisfying disagreement that causes re-examinations) and it cycled through a myriad big themes from wither #Agile needs constant flexibility and resilience -top tip: hells to the yes!- to whether that is comfortable -spoiler alert: hells to the no!- and who should worry about it - cliff notes: everyone who intends to stay employed going forward!-. We talked about success strategies which in short boil down to "#Agile for the business, betterment for the self" - what “practice” means and how withstanding discomfort is necessary but won’t kill anyone. The work, the strength, the reasons. All that good stuff. As I listen it to it myself yesterday (once I got over the loathe of hearing my own voice as you do) it made me wonder about a major theme: my own rosy-colored bias that expects some facts about business and life to be supremely clear to all. We work with change-makers every day so we don’t presume they are a special breed or have a particular job title and are assigned by the business to be the token transformation guys, but instead a type of individual in a run-of-the-mill evolutionary state. We speak to tens of professionals a week who fervently nod about the speed of transformation that’s needed to match the pace of tech, and so we come to think of it as common knowledge. Are these self-evident truths nowadays or are we generalizing and idealizing? In the podcast, Dave Chapman asks for my advice for change leaders and I quip that’s anyone with a serious mandate but any CxO and for sure a CEO. He says that’s not evident to everyone.

Isn’t it? What if he’s right?

Here’s the crux of the issue: Isn’t everyone a change-maker? More importantly, irrespective of job title, doesn’t everyone perceive themselves as one? And once you think of that, new and unsettling questions come to mind. What if it’s not clear to everyone that business is nothing like it was a mere 20-30 years ago? What if people think they have been brought in with a mandate to preserve the status quo and only ever so slightly and incrementally move the needle? What if the reason some people think this way, is out of protectionism and because they don’t feel they are worth their own investment in courage and action? What if there’s more destructive impression management at not only the individual level but the group level, where we are too far down the storyline to take honest stock and reprogram the way we think? What if being weak is excused with a narrative that normalizes a lack of effort and passion? What if, most unsettling of all, this is all wrong and those of us swimming against the current to reach a paradise island that everyone else seems to fail to spot are seeing it wrong and the masses being lulled by the waves in the general direction of the shore have it right and that’s the only land to be had? The sequential, Prince-led land of disinterest and non-involvement where the deader the soul and the lower the ambition the longer the tenure. Nope. I can’t honestly believe anyone truly buys that knock-off-Russian-novel-tragedy level of dreary perspective. I choose to think that in their heart of hearts, every grown-up professional knows these things to be true:
  • Everything in business has changed and is in flux
  • Technology has transformed everything and consumers’ expectations will never slow down
  • #Agile is sine qua non, sequential thinking and old mindsets can not compete
  • Adapting is not optional. Flexibility and resilience are musts
  • Doing work on our own “practice” and growing b…bravery is mandatory
If they protest, if they ignore them, if they disagree - it’s disingenuous, lazy and because they are still hoping the gentle wave will deliver them before they need to start swimming but don’t let them drag you down and make your own journey to the island any longer or harder than it needs to be. Related: Leadership Teams Aren’t Psychologically Safe Because They Don’t Exist