Fall, A Time for Change

It’s an old, out-of-print, book now, Change Master: Principles for Mastering Change that was published in 1995 (almost 20 years ago) co-authored by Charles I. Merrick and Kay Hunley Titchenal.   Some nearly 20 years later, change is still the word that we hear over and over, often driven by world events, new technology, or internal capabilities. So often change is something to blame – something that happens to us – and yet change can also be something we instigate or desire.   Webster defines change (as a verb) to mean “to be or cause to be different” and that is ultimately the outcome of change.


The book mentioned above begins with the following:


Anticipating a game of bobbing for apples, the tub stands ready with a single apple floating on the surface.   But let’s suppose the game is postponed and that on each subsequent day the number of apples in the tub is doubled until, on the fifteenth day, the tub cannot float any more apples. On what day was the tub half full of apples?


The answer, of course, is the fourteenth day. It took fourteen days to fill the first half of the tub’s surface, but only twenty-four hours for the tub to be completely choked with apples.


The Change Master will not miss the significance of the story of the tub of apples, for therein lies an appreciation for the basic attributes of change. Change begins slowly, usually with a single, seemingly insignificant event. It appears deceptively manageable until all at once there is no denying its existence and overwhelming effect as the change moves faster and faster to overtake the familiar.


Realistically, much of the change in our organizations is driven by unexpected consequences, changes in regulations, loss of a leader, the marketplace, or a world event that compromises our product or service. So, in all honesty, how can a leader be held responsible for what change can do to us. Ah, but the real issue is whether we allow change to “do to us” or we embrace it from a solid leadership stance and master the impact.


That sounds a bit intimidating – that leaders can master the impact – yet there are real life examples over and over in our lives that demonstrate those are the very times that true leadership capability is exposed. Those organizations who have best weathered the storm (whether it is to ride out the impact of the change, spin off the organization or product/service into something different, or to bring the change into the organization creating a new and re-energized possibility) have “it”.  All of these scenarios can be successful or devastating. Research and leading consultants all agree that there is a key component to the success factor – “it” is the leader, the leadership team, and the ultimate company culture that the leaders and their teams have created.


What allows someone to master the impact of change goes back to kindergarten days – when we had that special day of show and tell. That was when we go to take center stage amongst our classmates (our newest friends) and show them something that was important to us, tell them why we valued it, and let them in on how they can value it as well.   That, in a nutshell, is what a good leader does. Notice the definition of change is to be or cause to be different. We can take control of that as a leader.


The outcome, however, rests squarely on the shoulders of effective leaders. There are all kinds of lists of effective leadership – yet there are some basic underpinnings that are encompassed in every list. Patrick Lencioni, in his 2012 book entitled “The Advantage” , suggests that healthy (not just smart) organizations are those that will become and remain successful. As he notes on page 5 of that book: At the core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity – is healthy – when it is whole, consistent and complete, that is: when its management operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.


His is yet another reminder to leaders that the basis upon which an organization is built is ultimately trust – trust in the leadership group (the C-suite, managers and supervisors).   Trust is defined as: reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing. Trust is automatically invested in the leadership-and is validated, or not, by how leadership conducts itself in good as well as bad times.


Good leaders are trustworthy – what they say and do are in alignment. Their vulnerability and humility is as important to them as their courage and pride. A good leader will revert back to the kindergarten days and follow that model:


  1. This is what I value – and let me show you
  2. This is why I value what I do
  3. This is why I want to share it with you in the hope you, too, will find it valuable


Leaders need to define what they value – in word and deed. Sometimes a leader is the entrepreneur that is the founder of an organization; sometimes they inherited the position; sometimes they are invited in to rescue the organization. The common thread, upon which trust rests, is the passion they have for the organization as a whole, not merely the title and position.   Do they demonstrate that they value the organization, that they value a culture of integrity, commitment, accountability in themselves and those who lead with them?


A leader must not only show, but must communicate and personally demonstrate the values they espouse and then take the necessary steps to invite those out of the organization that repeatedly choose not to understand or embrace that which is of value to the whole.


In organizations with great leaders, when change comes swooping in and begins to challenge the familiar, it can and will be met head on with intelligence, experience and new ideas – all of which are firmly anchored in the basic principles and values of the organization. That anchor of integrity, practiced from the bottom up and top down, will prevent the world’s mythical sirens from overtaking the ship thereby leading to panic and destruction. The show and tell, built upon common trust in the leader and their team, will allow any organization to come out, perhaps with a few scars, but nevertheless whole and healthy on the other side of the change that was thrust upon them.


The challenge to any leader: How good are you at “show and tell?”


Thanks, Kay, for your two cents this month! And for all reading this, next month we will be announcing the changes here at GCI. As always, our goal is to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, both at work and as a net result, life away from work. We want to help make you have even better organizations, with more effective leaders and teams. And in the process we hope to help reduce the stress and increase the smiles in the workplace. We all need more of that!