If You Want Water to Boil, Turn up the Heat!

NUGGET : Make sure your investment in change is robust enough to achieve your change goal. In the last post, I talked about one of two major mistakes that condemn changes to the trash heap of failed projects: failing to say NO to a proposed change that won’t add value. The second mistake is both big and common: failing to allocate enough resources for success. Think about this: a group decides to pursue a new strategy or launch a big change. The change is complex and will change roles and relationships and require a period of learning, experimenting, even trial and error. But the resources allocated to the change process… Read More

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Just say “NO!”

NUGGET : Say “NO” to changes that will not add value We often hear a scary statistic about change: 40, 50, 60, 70% of all changes in organizations are viewed as failures. They don’t achieve desired goals, they fall apart or are abandoned before they are complete, they overrun costs by orders of magnitude, etc. These failure statistics come from questionnaires administered by various consulting firms, so I don’t really know what the truth is. I do believe, however, that we can do a lot better – that immense amounts of energy, money, and other resources are wasted on changes that have gone awry or are poorly implemented. After participating… Read More

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“Everyone a Leader?” Yes…. And NO!

NUGGET : Let’s stop pretending that everyone is a leader in the same way. When there are leadership failures the buck must ultimately stop at the feet of people with institutional power, for they wear the decision mantle and authority of the larger organization or institution. Everyone IS a leader when he or she brings something new to the table, but everyone is NOT an institutional manager/leader. Institutional leaders have power beyond their personal role – to make decisions and channel resources for the institution or a part of it. The “everybody a leader” rhetoric, while positive in many ways, takes formal leaders off the hook for this additional power… Read More

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Idealism and Leading Change

NUGGET : Idealism is critical fuel for change and an important force for leaders to recognize and support – especially when it meets the often refiner’s fire of challenge from the status quo. I hear the media commenting in critical tones, that President Obama is finally setting a more “realistic” agenda, tempering his vision and accepting what he cannot change. But without intending to make any point about the CONTENT of the political climate in the US, I can’t pass up a teaching point about large system change: people who lead significant change can only do so with an initially radical agenda. Idealism is critical fuel for change – even… Read More

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Mandela Lesson 3: Inclusiveness – For Leadership, for Life

NUGGET : In times of change and complexity it is natural to retreat to an us/them stance. But, as Mandela’s life shows us, it’s often the opposite we need: a more inclusive view of people and ideas. In times of change, we are tempted to draw hard boundaries to protect what is “me” (the individual) or “us” (my group) from what is “the other(s).” Given today’s pace of change and complexity, and how we are thrown together in a global melting pot, it is easy to see why there is so much “us/them” conflict. And because it is so juicy for the media, it gets amplified and takes on battle… Read More

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Mandela: A Study in the Responsible Use of Power. Lesson Two: Be a Bifocal Leader

NUGGET : Great leaders have bi-focal sight: they simultaneously focus on today and the longer term future. As we say goodbye to Mandela, I’m thinking about some of the lesser known insights from that amazing time of transformation. So to continue on the “lessons” theme launched in the last posting (Use of Power, Lesson One: Awareness), I’d like to highlight an amazing and courageous decision that Mandela and his cohorts on Robben Island made early in their incarceration. To set the stage, recall that Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 and was not released until February 11, 1990. The new South African Constitution was not ratified until 1996, with the first… Read More

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Mandela: A Study in the Responsible Use of Power Lesson One: Awareness

NUGGET : A leadership role carries special responsibilities and powers. The first lesson is to be aware that as a formal leader you speak and act for your group, your institution, your cause. You are no longer just “you,” but are also your role. In 1983 I was invited to give a series of talks in South Africa. That invitation launched me on a long, intense, and varied relationship with that country, its people, and many public and private institutions, including living there from 1992-1998. South Africa is still my second home, so the death of Nelson Mandela has special personal significance. In 1983, international sanctions against South Africa were… Read More

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The Pope: Role, Person, Power

NUGGET : Watch how the pope keeps his humility and human perspective while juggling the perks and pomp of his powerful role. It’s a leadership lesson in progress. The stunning humble behavior of the new Pope Francis is interesting and media worthy. But now that we are beyond the novelty, I think we will find ourselves challenged to become more aware of what formal authority is and how we relate to it. How similar to and different from the people they lead should institutional leaders be? What are the appropriate perks and accouterments of power for people in this and other leadership roles? Why do some “followers” feel let down… Read More

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Let’s Move Beyond Our Love Affair with Charismatic Leadership

NUGGET : Don’t put any leader on a pedestal. A mainstream view of leadership is that the best leaders (people with institutional power) have lots of charisma. They use it to instill vision, values, and culture and to make sure people are aligned, committed, and acculturated. These charismatic leaders are the heroes, even rock stars, of many leadership books. But is charisma all it’s touted to be? An interesting, scholarly book on leadership encourages us to wake up from the charisma trance. I’d like to share some of its insights (note: I hope to serve you, my busy reader, by sometimes being a research forager and translator). The book is… Read More

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Accountability at the Top: Leadership Lessons From the HealthCare.gov Debacle

NUGGET : Leadership in change is not just a matter of vision. For people in formal management roles, vision and policy are just the beginning. The true test is in the less glamorous and often messy work of execution. It disturbs me to hear that a project as large and complex as HealthCare.gov appears to have been badly managed. It’s not the fact that there are technical problems – there are few big system implementations that don’t have them. What concerns me is the apparently poor change management along the way. I’m not privy to the details, so at this point I can only comment generally about the change management… Read More

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