Leading From the Middle, 3Rs of Success

is_150828_middle_management_tug_o_war_800x600If you are a Middle Manager like me, you know you have the hardest job in the world.  If you are going to be successful in this role I have learned there are three traits you will have to acquire:

Be Resourceful:  Since you are not at the top of your organization you cannot prioritize your initiatives.  This often means you will have to be creative and find other revenue streams, other cost savings, and creative options to make your projects happen.

Be Relational:  Many times you will not have all the resources you will need to make things happen, so you will have to rely upon relationships you have created and good will you have established with others in your organization.  This means you will have to give more than you take.  Genuine servanthood will be key to achieve things when you lead from the middle.

Be Resilient:  Despite your best efforts, sometimes your priorities will not rise to the top for the organization, or worse yet they do and you fail to make the priority successful.  It will happen if you lead from the middle long enough.  When it does you will have to brush it off and start looking for the next way you can have impact.  You cannot lead from the middle while looking backwards.

 

Winners Plan, Planners Win!

Do you want to win?  You better learn how to plan!  Almost nobody wanders into success.  Success in any arena takes intentionality. A successful life requires intentionality across all dimensions of life.  Zig Ziglar summed these up as the seven spokes in the “Wheel of Life:”

  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

In order to have the type of life we all dream of having we need to plan first to have time to devote to all seven dimensions, and then have a plan in each of these arenas, both short-term, and long-term, if you really expect to achieve results in each area.

Finally, you must realize that a plan is only a plan, subject to change.  A friend of mine who has retired from a distinguished military career including combat command says the army has a saying about this reality:

Fight the Enemy, Not the Plan!

We have to realize that no matter how in-depth and detailed our planning is, that when we go to execute on the plan, things change.  The enemy defies our expectations, unforeseen external forces come into play, we forgot to contemplate a variable altogether…  What do we do at that point?  If you want to win, you cannot run, you cannot wave the white flag…  We have to adjust the plan and press forward to our objective, even if that means a temporary retreat to re-engage under better circumstances.  Just because you made a plan, don’t be married to it!  You did not take a vow to serve the plan “til death do you part.”

With the liberating thought that plans are made to be changed, let me throw out a few challenges for planning across the dimensions of the wheel of life:

  • Career-  How are you doing on executing this year’s plan in your current career role?  Do you know your next step for promotion at your current employer, or advancement by moving on to another?  If you are an entrepreneur, what will take your company to the next level?
  • Social- Who are you planning on having over for dinner in the next month?  What are you doing to create or tie into a network of friends that you can enjoy life with when your kids have flown the coop?
  • Financial- How are you doing at living within your budget this month?  Does every dollar have a name?  Are you telling your money where to go before the month begins, or wondering where it went when the month is through?  What is your number to reach financial independence so you can literally do whatever you want to do for the rest of your life?  How long until you get to that number?
  • Family- Do you have time set aside on your calendar each day to connect with your spouse?  Do you have a weekly date night?  How about a night for a family devotion with the kids?
  • Physical- How many calories can you consume and maintain your weight, or how many do you need to cut to get to where you want to be.  What will you eat today to reach that amount?  How much will you need to exercise if you eat that Krispy Kreme?  Is there time on your calendar set aside for exercise?  Could you maybe combine that with time with your spouse, or time to pursue intellectual pursuits with audible books or podcasts?
  • Mental- What are you doing to expand your knowledge in your specific career track.  Who are you reading or listening to in order to become a better leader, better spouse, better father, better person?  Can you make use of that awful highway commute by tapping into the information superhighway?  Can you listen to podcasts on your commute, your run, or on the elliptical?
  • Spiritual- Do you have time on your calendar each day to pray and meditate?  Could you turn your car into your prayer closet?  Is there a group of like-minded people at your work place who might like to study scripture or a book exploring scripture, together.  What are you doing today to answer the most important question in life?  When you stand before the maker of the universe and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”

The biggest part of successful planning is committing to do it.  If you want success in an area of life that you are not winning in today, MAKE A PLAN!

Leadership that NEVER Fails

Here is a description of a Leader that I think we would all choose to follow.  One that:

  • Never gives up
  • Cares more for others than self
  • Is not envious of others’ success
  • Is not prideful
  • Does not let success go to his or her head
  • Does not force his or her will on others
  • Is not always about “me first”
  • Never flies off the handle
  • Does not keep track of others failures
  • Does not revel when others have to grovel
  • Is most satisfied when the truth unfolds
  • Puts up with almost anything
  • Trusts that he is not God and therefore does not have to try to control everything
  • Always looks for the best in everything for every one
  • Never looks back longingly to the past
  • Always presses forward to the goal, regardless of the obstacles
  • Will NEVER FAIL

Who would not follow this leader?  What leader could ever measure up to this list?

The list may sound familiar to some of you.  It is a loose adaptation from “The Message” version of the Bible, the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, verses 4 through 7.  It is often called “the love chapter” and these verses are the core versus that define what “Love Is.”  I was listening to a podcast recently where these were being read for a completely unrelated topic and it occurred to me how well they described the Leader I aspire to become.

So my brief message of the day, from the message version of the bible, is that if you want to be a great leader you do not have to read a library of leadership books, attend exhaustive leadership training, read leadership blogs (except mine, of course!), or conduct exhaustive employee surveys.  All of these things are good, but to be a great leader the secret is to walk in love.  Not wimpy, spineless, ooey gooey feeling kind of love, but strong, courageous, powerful, sacrificial love as described above.

A wise man once said, “you cannot give what you do not have,” so if you find yourself struggling to lead as described above you might need to ask yourself, “Have I ever received that kind of love.”  It is a rare thing to find, yet it has been offered to everyone.

If you have received this kind of love but are struggling to lead in this manner it may be that the cultural messages of leadership by control, greed being good, looking out for number one, and the view that people are just interchangeable cogs in a wheel, merely means to your ends, are superseding the TRUTH.

What is the TRUTH?  Our lives are just a “vapor waiting to pass” and the only thing that matters is how well we loved and served others in our brief slice of eternity in which we drift in before we fade away.  It is the lives we touch that will determine our legacy.  Nothing we build will last forever.  No companies, no buildings, no nations or confederation have eternal lives.  Only people do.  You might fail to execute on a business plan or strategy.  You may not get that promotion, or your dream job.  Does that mean you failed?  NO!  People are the only things that are eternal.  Even “heaven and earth will pass away.” All that really matters is the impact we have on people, who impact other people, and so on, and so on…

So you want to be a leader who never fails?  Learn to love.

Four Resolutions for Impactful Leaders

I am guilty.  Guilty of showing favoritism.  In my conscious mind I know that every person has worth and value.  I even work for an organization that serves the disenfranchised, yet I was confronted by the fact that in my subconscious I have been guilty of  not serving well.  I am like those that James confronts in his letter found in the New Testament.  I have shown VIP treatment to some who have more everything; status, influence, power, yet have treated those with less like they ARE less, which they ARE NOT. I have worked hard to build relationships and influence with the haves, and have not taken the time to get to know the have-nots.  I have failed to fully recognize that wisdom does not know socioeconomic boundaries and the riches of life are often available in getting to know those who have persevered, though buffeted mercilessly by life’s blows.

I am determined to heed the words of wisdom learned today and take the following actions so that I “Live to Impact,” not “Live to Impress.”  I will slow down from my doing good long enough to serve better by resolving to heed these simple lessons for impacting the world around us:

Learn Names:

Dale Carnegie rightly stated that nothing sounds so sweet to a man than the sound of his own name.  I resolve to learn one person’s name per day that I previously would have passed by without giving them any thought.

Listen to Stories:  

Everybody has one.  They are what life is all about, and the only things that have impact from one generation to the next.  Our stories are our legacy, and if we are so busy trying to write our own story, without taking the time to intersect with the stories of others, our life will be pale, lifeless, and void of any lasting impact.  Think of the funerals you have attended.  Which ones do you leave feeling inspired and hopeful?  Those where the deceased has had an impact on the lives around him or her!  Those who left behind stories of love, compassion and serving others.  They are the lives that had an impact.  They are the kind of live we all should want to emulate.  I resolve to listen to at least one person’s story each day that I otherwise would have passed without hearing.

Share possessions:

The lesson of Christmas joy needs to remembered 24 x 7, 365 days per year.  The lesson is this.  “It is better to give than to receive.”  “Better for whom?” one might ask.  Better for the receiver and the giver.  Nothing brings as much joy than giving a gift to someone who appreciates it. Nothing we possess in this life is worth anything past the day we die unless it can affect the life of another.  One has two choices.  Let it impact others now so one can share in the joy of the effect it has on someone, or die and then let your assets be passed to your heirs and/or the government and hope it has some positive effect on the world.  Those are your only two choices at the end of the day!  I resolve to share something I possess each day with someone I otherwise would never have impacted.

Provide Opportunities:

The other resolutions are fairly simple commitments that can be accomplished daily and with relatively easy effort.  Not so with the last one.  This one requires commitment to know those you want to impact beyond a surface level.  One has to understand the other person’s skills, abilities, vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  It is risky.  You will likely leverage your relationships and resources to have some people deeply disappoint you.  It will likely get messy at times.  That being said, having a lasting impact from one person who responds positively is worth the pain caused by many who may not respond or who may let you down.  To live life this way is a reflection of the same effort one man-made for all of us 2000 years ago in Galilee.  I resolve to provide opportunities for at least 5 people in the next year who I would never have lifted a finger to help in the past.

The truth of the matter is life is short and the need around us is great.  If we want to have an impact, we need to open our eyes and ears to the people around us, hear their stories and be there to help them write happy endings to their tales.  In doing so our own stories will be enriched and inspire others for generations to come.  What Resolutions would you add?

Special thanks to my pastor, Kevin Queen, for his challenging and inspiring words of wisdom.

 

 

 

Four Keys to Managing Setbacks

It is a beautiful fall day. The air has that unmistakably crisp, clean quality  that remembers summer but anticipates fall.  The stadium is rocking with 100,000 plus, all dressed in the home team’s colors as they are set to receive the kick-off.  The drum roll and war cry reaches a crescendo as the kicker kicks-off to the home team’s receiver who takes possession of the ball one yard deep in his own end zone.  The receiver rockets to his right and a wall of blockers start taking on the opposition, but it appears the return will be routine and stopped at the 20-yard line when suddenly the receiver pitches the ball to a teammate headed left on a designed reverse that catches the defenders completely off-guard. Eight seconds later the ball carrier crosses into the end-zone, untouched, and the stadium starts to go crazy.

Then, the Jumbo-Tron screen switches camera views to focus on a 1 foot square of yellow fabric laying on the home team’s 15 yard-line and wails and groans echo throughout the hallowed bleachers.  Penalty, block in the back, no touchdown, no return.  First and 10 at the 10 yard line.  NInety yards to go until pay dirt…

As much as I hate that experience in a football game, and I have lived through many similar ones as a Redskins fan, when that experience occurs in the workplace it is much more gut wrenching and personally challenging.  I had one of those experiences this week.

I was brought into my current position, with my current employer mainly to launch one new service.  I have been working with an enormously dedicated and talented group of individuals for almost a full year to bring the program on-line.  This week we had our dedication ceremony, and our launch, and then the next day we made the strategic decision to “scrub the launch,”  The decision was the right one, and when we re-launch we will be even better, but it does feel as though we scored and now have been SETBACK.

As a leader I believe there are Four Keys to Managing Setbacks:

Stay Positive:  Imagine you are the quarterback who leads the team out to the 10 yard line after the kick-off return is called back.  What would you say and do?  Wouldn’t you look every one of your team members in the eye and remind them that you have a game plan to execute that did not include a kick-off return for a touchdown, then challenge them to execute on their part of every play this drive and every drive until the fourth quarter is over and your team is victorious?  Or would you go into the huddle and lament the call on the previous play?  The answer is pretty obvious, right?

Keep Perspective:  The service that I was hired to help lead into fruition is one that a key team member told me on the original launch day had been talked about for twenty years!  Our expected delay until full launch is expected to be 45 days.  Twenty Years, 45 days…  Really, WHO CARES!  I need to lay aside my wounded pride and realize how far we have come and get ready to celebrate even harder in 6 weeks!

Put It In The Past:  Let’s look at the teammate who was charged for the penalty on the kick-off.  The replay showed the block was thrown well away from the action.  It was an unnecessary penalty, leading to an unnecessary setback.  As a leader, what are you going to do and say to this teammate?  Are you going to give him the cold shoulder, or worse yet, rip into him for his stupid, unecessary act? That would be pretty foolish as he is a starting outside linebacker who is on the field half of the game and integral on every defensive snap to keep the opposing team from scoring.  Instead, you need to help him forget about that one mistake and focus on the task at hand.

Push Toward the Prize: In any setback situation the key is to focus everyone back on the goal.  One called back touchdown does not lose the game.  One lost game does not ruin a season.  One bad season does not ruin a career.  A career failure does not have to ruin a life.  Wherever you find yourself, there is a purpose from this point forward.  Find that purpose, focus on it and move on.

For my current teammates, thanks for all your hard work and dedication.  I am looking forward to the locker celebration in our not so distant future!

“It’s Best Practice!” the new “Cause I said so!”

Remember the good ol days?!

Do you remember as a kid when your Mom or Dad told you to do something that you did not want to do, or at least not right then.  The “discussion” went back and forth. You came up with every reason that you should not have to do it.  When that failed you gave all the reasons it could wait until later.  Finally you would make the costly fatal mistake.  You would ask something in exasperation like, “Why do I have to do it right this minute?!” to which the “discussion” ending answer would be stated authoritatively:  “Cause I said so!”

I  have two sons, 20 and 17 years old.  Long gone are the days when that phrase works for me at home!  Furthermore, as an emotionally intelligent leader, I have avoided using such language in the work place unless it is completely unavoidable.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have used it in 28 years as a leader, and count on one finger the times I have felt good about it afterwards!

Thankfully, a couple of weeks ago, some colleagues educated me on another phrase that can be used in the workplace as effectively as my parents’ infamous “Cause I said so!”

We are implementing an expedited service, spanning a large part of the organization.  What normally takes hours we are going to do in minutes.  In order to achieve this,  I needed something from a support department that would allow us to perform mock run tests of the system under the new time constraints to identify potential failure points and make necessary adjustments.

Without getting into details let’s just say that what I thought was a simple request was not seen that way by my colleagues in this support area.  In fact, they thought that I should have come to them a lot sooner in the process and do it in a particular manner they preferred.  I thought my way was a lot easier, offered little risk, and asked them if they would make an exception to their normal process.

I don’t know if you have ever asked for an exception from a support service, but it can be a little like a kid trying to win an argument with his/her parents.  It’s an uphill battle at best, and useless at worst.  This time, however, I knew I had the high ground.  There were no new processes to speak of, and I just needed one little thing to be able to do our testing.  I am a persuasive guy, I knew I would convince them of my logical reasoning.

So… the discussion began.  I employed my best emotionally intelligent communication techniques.  I kept emotion out of it, listened more than talked and explained the logic behind my reasoning.  In the end, I failed!  They maintained it had to be done their way.  No exceptions could be made.  Then I did the unthinkable!  I asked that one question that brought about the end of all reasoning…  I asked, “Why not?”

Childhood memories and frustrations flooded back in when the Support Services representative gave me that look like I should know better and spoke these devastating words…”Because it’s best practice.”

Now, I know that there are evidenced based best practices in any industry, but I am in healthcare.  To acknowledge that you might do anything that goes against best practice is like saying you want to kill people!  That was it!  I was finished!

Since then, I have done an exhaustive literary search to find the study that supports the assertion that the way that they mandated was indeed best practice for my specific situation.  I have not found it yet.  We have burned through 120 man hours to create the test environment needed to follow their “best practice” and have at least 30 hours more to complete the task.  Conservatively, we are paying team members an average of $50 per hour for this project.  That’s $7,500.  Oh, and Mock Runs have been delayed for 3 weeks.

Don’t misunderstand, I am sure the end product will be great for the additional effort.  Not only that, I have a new tool in my belt to avoid the necessity to logically convince people about future initiatives I embark upon.  After all, I will only choose to pursue “Best Practice!”

The Dreamer, The Doer, or The Dud. Which Do YOU Choose?

I have a great respect for Dreamers.  The Bible tells us that “without a vision, the people perish.”  We need visionaries (dreamers) to inspire us to accomplish the tremendous things of which we are capable.

Then there are the Duds.  I call these people the Eeyore’s of the world.  You know; the donkey from  Winnie the Pooh stories?  They are the ones that can tell you, at length, every reason something will not work and every bad thing that happened to anyone who ever tried to accomplish anything!  They are the “naysayers,” the “wet blankets,” the “glass ALL empty because it has a hole in the bottom that can never be repaired,” crowd.  They will drain every ounce of positive energy from you if you hang around them too long. I would rather spend my life around a Dreamer that never accomplishes anything than a Dud who never even dares to dream.

Finally there is the group of people to which I aspire.  They are the Doers.  This group is composed of Dreamers that are accomplishing their dreams in a way that inspires others to dream and do as well!  They are leaders not only by virtue of what they have done, but who they are.  They realize that dreams are great, but no dream comes to pass without help from others.  They have learned “no man is an island.”  To that end, they engage others in the process of actualizing their dream by first helping others dream and accomplish their dreams.  They are the “Connectors” of this world, building networks of Dreamers and Doers, some of which they have converted from Duds!

There are three steps by which one can move from either Dud, or Dreamer and become a Doer.  They are:

FOLLOW FIRST

One of the biggest reasons someone is a Dud is they remain in isolation.  Something is broken or dead inside them.  There are many reasons that might have caused this which are inconsequential, but what Duds have in common is a total lack of HOPE!  Their natural demeanor caused by this state of hopelessness drives people away from them, and drives them away from people!  They are the people “without a vision.”  The first step for them to move towards dreaming is to FORCE themselves to be around Dreamers and Doers who have enough HOPE to spare!  In fact, when one is around the latter groups they will catch HOPE like a virus.  It is contagious.  This is a fact that has been exploited by cult leaders and dictators for all of history, so it is important to follow people whose dreams and visions are grounded in TRUTH.

For Dreamers, following is hard!  They are the visionaries pulling others in their wake towards their dreams.  Doers, however, have learned to value others and recognize that others have knowledge, skills, connections and influence that can be leveraged for the sake of the dream.  In order to accomplish the dream they often have to first serve and submit to authority.  They must work their way through infrastructures and bureaucracies to find the resources, human and otherwise, to bring their vision to pass.

FOUNDATION NEXT

At this step we have lost all Duds.  They have either been converted or left behind.  Now it is all about what turns Dreamers into Doers.  Someone once said “A dream without a plan is just a wish.”  We all know dreamers that have never accomplished anything.  It is so prevalent in this generation that to be called a Dreamer is an insult!  There are two reasons many Dreamers fail to realize their dreams:

1.  Lack of a plan:  Usually caused by ignorance or laziness.

2.  Lack of a good plan:  Most likely caused by never FOLLOWING.  Dreamers create a plan based on their own thinking, failing to leverage the wisdom of others (even the pitfalls one could learn from the Duds), or the resources in the hands of others.

FINISH STRONG

The last step to go from Dreamer to Doer is the hardest.  It is Executing the Plan.  Despite the best plans, and dreamers that have secured the hearts and minds of others by following first, DREAMS ARE HARD TO ACHIEVE!  They take time that requires patience, energy that requires endurance, and will be met with much resistance which will require perseverance.  These traits are rare in our “Microwave”, “Gotta Have It Now,” culture.  Many dreamers have abandoned their quest within steps of the summit because they allowed their hope to be stolen by the blinding storm that kept them from seeing they were so close to the top.  The last lesson here, as stated in a previous blog post is, NEVER GIVE UP!

What is Your Experience With Command and Control Leaders?

Have you ever been on a team where the leader was constantly pushing?  You make it to the end of the week and feel like you have been “rode hard and put up wet.”  You have nothing left to give to your family and friends?

Such is life under a “Command and Control” leader.  This type of leader can accomplish much for short periods of time.  They pride themselves in getting the most out of their team.  They can be very effective in turnaround situations.  However, in my experience, this type of leader’s success is short-lived.  People perform under their leadership because they are afraid NOT to!  Given an opportunity elsewhere, team members will jump ship faster than Jack…  You know… Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack’s now captaining the competitor’s ship!

High performing teams will not thrive under Command and Control.  They do not need to be pushed, so they resent someone who thinks they do.  Instead, they want to be led by someone who gets out in front of them, shielding them from the attacks of enemies, breaking down barriers of bureaucracy, and putting themselves at risk.  Give high performers a leader like that and they will follow her fearlessly, tirelessly, and passionately.  They need inspiration, not subjugation.

There is an old adage that says teams are like rope.  They are a lot easier to pull than push.  If you stand behind a rope and push it, it resists and twists and turns.  It is a futile activity.  On the other hand,  if you grab the leading end of the rope, and pull it, it will follow you anywhere you go.  Leaders should lead.  They need to do so from the front of the pack if they want the most from their teams in the long run.

The whip and spur approach of a command and control boss might drive mules to win short races, but over the long haul, thoroughbreds need to be fed, watered, groomed, and even loved by their trainers.  On the track, they will perform best when you trust them enough to let go of the pressure on the reins and give them the bit.  That is how the long races will be won.

Here are three ways to move from command and control to an inspirational leader.

1.  Focus on the five-year strategic plan, not the quarterly incentive plan.  Short term goals lead to short-term thinking which almost always detracts from long-term performance.

2.  Request twice as often as you Require.  Often the difference does not have anything to do with how much you are asking of people, but in how you ask (or demand) it of people.  Acknowledging that the ask is above reasonable expectations sprinkled in with a good measure of appreciation will go a long way toward being inspirational as opposed to unreasonable.

3.  Listen twice as often as you speak.  Once you have laid out what it is you need from your team, ask them how they think they best can get there.  If you have a high performing team, they likely are subject matter experts that have been there and done that before.  Use that knowledge and expertise by deferring to them as often as possible.  If it is their plan, they will execute at a higher level than if it is yours.  My mom used to say, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  Use those gifts in proportion to the way they have been given!

Now it is your turn!  Tell us about your experiences working for a Command and Control boss and lessons you would like them to learn!

 

What is Better Than Success?

Strange title to appear on a blog titled: 3RsofSuccess, right?

The truth is, the longer I write about leadership and success the more I realize that real success is not what most people envision.  If you did a word association test with 100 people and asked them to say the first thing that popped in their heads when you say, “Success!”  What kind of responses do you think wou would get?  I believe it would be things like: money, power, riches, mansion, Lamborghini, wealth, friends, influence.

Those things are all wonderful.  I would be happy to have them all, and in quantity!  The problem is a lot of people chase these things, maybe even attain them all, but never becoming successful.

I am a firm believer that real success may lead to the things on the list above, as well as love, peace, joy, happiness, strong family relationships and more.  Yet most people who chase after these things end up like King Solomon at the end of his life realizing that all the striving for material and or even the more noble vestiges of success, do not create success.  Chasing them is like chasing the wind.

So what is the secret of success?

I believe Albert Einstein summed it up nicely when he said, “Don’t try to be a man of success, rather try to be a man of value.”

When one focuses on being a man of success, the focus is all internal.  What can I do, be, get, that will result in me being happy, wealthy, revered, powerful, etc.  On the other hand, if one wants to be a man of value the focus shift 180 degrees to see what it is you can do that will help others.

In order to add the most value, I believe we have to first be connected to a greater purpose.  I believe we are all in this world for a reason, and have been gifted with talents and abilities to achieve great things.  That belief takes all my fears away because it is not all up to me to win or lose.  I am just part of a plan.  That belief also propels me to give my all to the purpose for which I was created and to be a person of character, because flaws in character, judgment, and integrity could cost me the opportunity to fullfill my purpose.

Once I am connected to my purpose and grounded in integrity, my focus to add value causes me to look at my family, my community and my world and ask, what can I do that will truly serve these people?  What gifts and talents have I been given, and how can those be used to help the most people?

I am a student of history.  When you think back to high school or college history classes, who are the people that you admired most?  Was it the conquerors and empire builders?  Was it the political or business leaders that dominated their day?  Or was it the people that added value like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, or Lincoln?  Who’s legacy will be seen more positively; Joseph Stalin or Mother Theresa?

So what is better than “success?”…  Serving!  

I guarantee if you are a Servant Leader, and serve enough others well, connecting to the purpose for which you were created, and using your unique talents and gifts, the other things on your success list will also start showing up.  You will not have to chase after them, they will be attracted to you like steel to a magnet!  I have seen it in many successful people’s lives, and have been blessed to experience it in mine.

3 Questions Leaders Must Answer to Engage Stakeholders in Change

I have made a career out of leading change.  I enjoy the change process.  It is time-consuming, always difficult, politically dangerous, and often frustrating.  It takes long days, short nights, and meetings.  Lots and Lots of meetings!  Why doesn’t everybody love this?

What makes change worthwhile is when the change has worth.  Change for change sake is a waste of time, energy, resources, and political capital.  The problem is, people never know if the change you are trying to engage them in is change for change sake until you answer three important questions.  If you can answer them to their satisfaction, you will be able to engage people in the change.  If not, well, better luck next time!

Why Do We Need To Change?

Stephen Covey calls this “beginning with the end in mind.”  Leaders must cast a vision.  There is a proverb that says, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  The same is true of a change initiative.  If you cannot connect your change initiative to the Mission and Vision of your organization, assuming that the Mission and Vision itself is accepted, your initiative is doomed from the start.  People will only endure pain, only if it is connected to a greater purpose.  As Quint Studer, leader of the Studer Group consulting firm whose mission is all about changing institutional culture, says, “We must connect to the Why” in order to experience “meaningful, purposeful work.”

What’s In It For Me?

This is a question you must answer for every individual you need to participate in the change.  I used to see this as selfish and annoying.  I believed the greater good should override any self-interest.  That is how I am wired.  As a leader, however, I cannot usually rally enough people to enact significant change without addressing this question.  Additionally, I have discovered by endeavoring to answer this question I achieve far greater results.  This is why.

Answering this question requires meeting with the individuals, hearing their concerns, understanding their current situation and how they believe this change will affect them.  Often you will start to hear major recurring themes among the people involved that will necessitate precursor change prior to the change you envision.  Without this process, the change you plan might fail miserably.  Addressing the issues of the individuals leads to a better outcome and also gains more engagement.

Will This Last?

There is nothing more disheartening to a team than to fully engage in a change and then have some new initiative pull away the focus, resources, and commitment to sustain the change.  Answering this question is always important and applies to any change.  Whether it is an individual person, a department, an entire hospital system or Fortune 500 Company that is engaging in change, people want to know that this is not the flavor of the month.

If you are not 100% sure of the change then consider using a “rapid cycle” change process with a small test of change that is much less resource intense than the complete change initiative.  Make sure the participants understand that this is a test, or a pilot so that if you back out of the initiative, you will not dishearten them and lose them for future change initiatives.  I do caution over-use of this process, especially in professional service industries.  No matter your good intentions, this can often lead to a culture of change fatigue and a perception that the organization enacts change for change sake, and that leaders do not use evidence based thinking.

Final thoughts:

We live in an age where the only thing constant is change.  As leaders, we need to assure our teams that the change we ask of them is ultimately for the long-term viability and stability of our organizations and the needs of the customers we serve.  It cannot be about our pet projects, adding to our fiefdom, or impressing the C-Suite.

Finally, if you do not need to change, don’t!

Good luck finding that scenario!