Tag Archives: Ghandi

Four Change Empowerment Myths

Four Change Empowerment Myths

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

We live in a transformational age. Powerful technologies like the cloud and artificial intelligence are quickly shifting what it means to compete. Social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are exposing decades of misdeeds and rewriting norms. The stresses of modern life are creating new expectations about the relationship between work and home.

Every senior manager and entrepreneur I talk to understands the need to transform their enterprise, yet most are unsure of how to go about it. They ordinarily don’t teach transformation in business school and most management books minimize the challenge by reducing it to silly platitudes like “adapt or die.”

The truth is that change is hard because the status quo always has inertia on its side. Before we can drive a true transformation, we need to unlearn much of what we thought we knew. Change will not happen just because we want it to, nor can it be willed into existence. To make change happen, we first need to overcome the myths that tend to undermine it.

Myth #1: You Have To Start With A Bang

Traditionally, managers launching a new initiative have aimed to start big. They work to gain approval for a sizable budget as a sign of institutional commitment. They recruit high-profile executives, arrange a big “kick-off” meeting and look to move fast, gain scale and generate some quick wins. All of this is designed to create a sense of urgency and inevitability.

That works well for a conventional initiative, but for something that’s truly transformational, it’s a sure path to failure. Starting with a big bang will often provoke fear and resistance among those who don’t see the need for change. As I explain in my book, Cascades, real change always starts with small groups, loosely connected, united by a shared purpose.

That’s why it’s best to start off with a keystone change that represents a concrete and tangible goal, involves multiple stakeholders and paves the way for future change. That’s how you build credibility and momentum. While the impact of that early keystone change might be limited, a small, but successful, initiative can show what’s possible.

For example, when the global data giant Experian sought to transform itself into a cloud-based enterprise, it started with internal API’s that had limited effect on its business. Yet those early achievements spurred on a full digital transformation. In much the same way, when Wyeth Pharmaceuticals began its shift to lean manufacturing, it started with a single process at a single plant. That helped give birth to a 25% reduction of costs across the board.

Myth #2: You Need A Charismatic Leader And A Catchy Slogan

When people think about truly transformational change, a charismatic leader usually comes to mind. In the political sphere, we think of people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. On the corporate side, legendary CEOs like Lou Gerstner at IBM and Steve Jobs at Apple pulled off dramatic turnarounds and propelled their companies back to prosperity.

Yet many successful transformations don’t have a charismatic leader. Political movements like Pora in Ukraine and Otpor and Serbia didn’t have clear leadership out front. The notably dry Paul O’Neill pulled of a turnaround at Alcoa that was every bit as impressive as the ones at IBM and Apple. And let’s face it, it wasn’t Bill Gates’s Hollywood smile that made Microsoft the most powerful company of its time.

The truth, as General Stanley McChrystal makes clear in his new book, Leaders: Myth and Reality, is that leadership is not so much about great speeches or snappy slogans or even how gracefully someone takes the stage, but how effectively a leader manages a complex ecosystem of relationships and builds a connection with followers.

And even when we look at charismatic leaders a little more closely, we see that it is what they did off stage that made the difference. Gandhi forged alliances between Hindus and Muslims, upper castes and untouchables as well as other facets of Indian society. Mandela did something similar in South Africa. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a solitary figure, but just one of the Big Six of civil rights.

That’s why McChrystal, whom former Defense Secretary Bob Gates called, “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I had ever met,” advises that leaders need to be “empathetic crafters of culture.” A leader’s role is not merely to plan and direct action, but to inspire and empower belief.

Myth #3: You Need To Piece Together A Coalition

While managing stakeholders is critical, all too often it devolves into a game theory exercise in which a strategically minded leader horse trades among competing interests until he or she achieves a 51% consensus. That may be enough to push a particular program through, but any success is bound to be short-lived.

The truth is that you can’t transform fundamental behaviors without transforming fundamental beliefs and to do that you need to forge shared values and a shared consciousness. It’s very hard to get people to do what you want if they don’t already want what you want. On the other hand, if everybody shares basic values and overall objectives, it’s much easier to get everybody moving in the same direction.

For example, the LGBT movement foundered for decades by trying to get society to accept their differences. However, when it changed tack and started focusing on common values, such as the right to live in committed, loving relationships and to raise happy, stable families, public opinion changed in record time. The differences just didn’t seem that important any more.

In a similar vein, when Paul O’Neill took over Alcoa in 1987, the company was struggling. So analysts were puzzled that when asked about his strategy he said that “I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America.” Yet what O’Neill understood was that safety goes part and parcel with operational excellence. By focusing on safety, it was much easier to get the rank and file on board and, when results improved, other stakeholders got on board too.

Myth #4: You Will End With The Vision You Started With

When Nelson Mandela first joined the struggle to end Apartheid, he was a staunch African nationalist. “I was angry at the white man, not at racism,” he would later write. “While I was not prepared to hurl the white man into the sea, I would have been perfectly happy if he climbed aboard his steamships and left the continent of his own volition.”

Yet Mandela would change those views over time and today is remembered and revered as a global citizen. In fact, it was the constraints imposed by the broad-based coalition he forged that helped him to develop empathy, even for his oppressors, and led him to govern wisely once he was in power.

In much the same way, Lou Gerstner could not have predicted that his tenure as CEO at IBM would be remembered for its embrace of the Internet and open software. Yet it was his commitment to his customers that led him there and brought his company back from the brink of bankruptcy to a new era of of prosperity.

And that is probably the most important thing we need to understand change. In order to make a true impact on the world, we first need to change ourselves. Every successful journey begins not with answers, but with questions. You have to learn how to walk the earth and learn things along the way. You know you’ve failed only when you end up where you started.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and an earlier version appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Pixabay

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How Transformational Leaders Learn to Conquer Failure

How Transformational Leaders Learn to Conquer Failure

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

When we think of great leaders their great successes usually come to mind. We picture Washington crossing the Delaware or Gandhi leading massive throngs or Steve Jobs standing triumphantly on stage. It is moments of triumph such as these that make indelible marks on history’s consciousness.

While researching my book, Cascades, however, what struck me most is how often successful change movements began with failure. It seems that those later, more triumphant moments can blind us to the struggles that come before. That can give us a mistaken view of what it takes to drive transformational change.

To be clear, these early and sometimes tragic failures are not simply the result of bad luck. Rather they happen because most new leaders are not ready to lead and make novice mistakes. The difference, I have found, between truly transformational leaders and those that fail isn’t so much innate talent or even ambition, but their ability to learn along the way.

A Himalayan Miscalculation

Today, we remember Mohandas Gandhi as the “Mahatma,” an iconic figure, superlatively wise and saintly in demeanor. His greatest triumph, the Salt March, remains an enduring symbol of the power of nonviolent activism, which has inspired generations to work constructively toward positive change in the world.

What many overlook, however, is that ten years before that historic event Gandhi embarked on a similar effort that would fail so tragically he would come to regard it as his Himalayan miscalculation. It was, in fact, what he learned from the earlier failure that helped make the Salt March such a remarkable success.

In 1919, he called for a nationwide series of strikes and boycotts to protest against unjust laws, called the Rowlatt Acts, passed by the British Raj. These protests were successful at first, but soon spun wildly out of control and eventually led to the massacre at Amritsar, in which British soldiers left hundreds dead and more than a thousand wounded.

Most people would have simply concluded that the British were far too cruel and brutal to be dealt with peacefully. Yet Gandhi realized that he had not sufficiently indoctrinated the protestors in his philosophy of Satyagraha. So he spent the next decade creating a dedicated cadre of devoted and disciplined followers.

When the opportunity arose again in 1930 Gandhi would not call for nationwide protests, but set out on the Salt March with 70 or 80 of his closest disciples. Their nonviolent discipline inspired the nation and the world. That’s what led to Gandhi’s ultimate victory, Indian independence, in 1947.

Learning To Overthrow a Dictator

If you looked at Serbia in 1999, you probably wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss. The country was ruled, as it had been for a decade, by Slobodan Milošević, whose power was nearly absolute. There was no meaningful political opposition or even an active protest movement. Milošević, it seemed, would be ruler for life.

Yet just a year later he was voted out of power. When he tried to steal the election, massive protests broke out and, when he lost the support of the military and security services, he was forced to concede. Two years later, he was tried at The Hague for crimes against humanity and found guilty. He would die in his prison cell in 2006.

However, the success of these protests was the product of earlier failures. There were student protests in 1992 that, much like the “Occupy” protests later in the US, quickly dissipated with little to show for the effort. Later the Zajedno (together) opposition coalition had some initial success, but then fell apart into disunity.

In 1998, veterans of both protests met in a coffee shop. They reflected on past failures and were determined not to repeat the same mistakes. Instead of looking for immediate results, they would use what they learned about organizing protests to build a massive networked organization, called Otpor, that would transcend political factions.

They had learned that if they could mobilize the public that they could beat Milošević at the polls and that, just like in 1996, he would deny the results. However, this time they would be prepared. Instead of disorganized protests, the regime faced an organization of 70,000 trained activists who inspired the nation and brought down a dictator.

A Wunderkind’s Fall from Grace

There is probably no business leader in history more iconic than Steve Jobs. We remember him not only for the incredible products he created, but the mastery with which he marketed them. Apple’s product launches became vastly more than mere business events, but almost cultural celebrations of expanding the limits of possibility.

What most people fail to realize about Steve Jobs, however, is how much he changed over the course of his career. Getting fired from Apple, the company he founded, was an excruciatingly traumatic experience. It forced him to come to terms with some of the more destructive parts of his personality.

While the Macintosh is rightfully seen today as a pathbreaking product, most people forget that, initially at least, it wasn’t profitable. After leaving Apple he started NeXT Computer which, although hailed for its design, also flopped. Along the way he bought Pixar, which struggled for years before finally becoming successful.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 he was a very different leader, more open to taking in the ideas of others. Although he became enamored with iMovie, his team convinced him that digital music was a better bet and the iPod became the new Apple’s first big hit. Later, even though he was dead set against allowing outside developers to create software for the iPhone, he eventually relented and created the App store.

Before You Can Change the World, You First Must Change Yourself

We tend to look back at transformational leaders and see greatness in them from the start. The truth is that lots of people have elements of greatness in them, but never amount to much. It is the ability to overcome our tragic flaws that makes the difference between outsized achievement and mediocrity.

When Gandhi began his career as a lawyer he was so shy that he couldn’t speak up in court. Before the founders of Otpor became leaders of a massive movement, they were just kids who wanted to party and listen to rock and roll. Steve Jobs was always talented, was so difficult to deal with even his allies on Apple’s board knew he needed to go.

Most people never overcome their flaws. Instead, they make accommodations with them. It would have been easy for Gandhi to blame the British for his “Himalayan Miscalculation,” just as it would have been easy for the Otpor founders to blame Milošević for their struggles and for Jobs to continue to swing at windmills, but they didn’t. Instead, they found the capacity to change.

We all have our talents, but innate ability will only take you so far. In the final analysis, what makes transformational leaders different is their ability to transform themselves to suit the needs of their mission.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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