Byron's Babbles

How Do We Change This World?

IMG_2188This morning as I was driving to visit with my mom I was listening to my favorite band, Alter Bridge. I would argue that no group has a line up of more inspiring songs. If you disagree, let’s have that discussion because I would love it, but that is not the point of this post. One of my top five songs from Alter Bridge is “Rise Today.” The main lyric of the song says, “I Wanna Rise Today And Change This World!” How can you not be inspired by that? But then as I sat with my mom, I got to thinking about what it, or what does it, mean to “rise today and change this world?” Particularly, when we all have different ideas of what it means to change the world.

img_0666Then I remembered what Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, so famously wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This got me thinking that if we really want to change the world we need to think and act on changes that we need to make to ourselves. Tolstoy’s dictum is a useful starting point for any leader engaged in organizational change that will change the world. I’m convinced that organizational change and changing the world is inseparable from individual change. Most change falters because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.

There are a few pieces of the lyrics of “Rise Today” that really hit home as I was reflecting on the question of what it means to change the world. Here they are:

  • Have we lost our way tonight?
  • Have we lost our hope to sorrow?
  • Feels like we’re all alone, running further from what’s right
    And there are no more heroes to follow
  • Hope we find a better way before we find we’re left with nothing
  • Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?

Research shows that half of all change efforts for transformational change fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people defend the status quo. Let me tell you, I have experienced this a lot lately. So as I think deeply about the five phrases I pulled from the song, it really comes down to something I learned from my studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: Technical vs. Adaptive Leadership. The problem is we view most things as technical challenges and they really aren’t. Technical leadership is just about applying the solution we already know to apply. An example I can think of right now to illustrate the difference is with budgets. Most think doing a budget is just a math problem – tweak here, tweak there, presto… done. That would be a technical challenge. But, with all budgeting, difficult discussions, trade-offs, staffing changes and re-deployments, and disappointments happen—this is the adaptive leadership work.

“Adaptive leaders learn to live with unpredictability. They spend less time fretting about the inability to establish a routine or control the future and focus more on exploiting opportunities.” ~ Dr. Leonard Wong
Therefore, if I want to be an adaptive leaders and truly change the world I must go through the continual process of challenge, adaptation, and learning, which readies me for the next challenge. It also challenges me to examine whether, as Alter Bridge’s song says, whether “the enemy was just [my] brother all along.”  If we want to be adaptive leaders we need to hone the following skills:
  • Be able to consider diverse and conflicting views in all situations.
  • Be able to operate with autonomy under a general framework (and not just look for the easy way to be compliant).
  • Model great behaviors as being both technically and and tactically proficient.
  • Be mentally flexible and agile.
  • Recognize and be able to navigate the gap between the way things are and the desired state.
  • Understand there are multiple perspectives on the issue.
  • Remembering that new learning will absolutely need to happen.
  • Knowing that resistance will be triggered in stakeholders.

So, if we are going to change the world we know that behaviors and attitudes will need to change. The tough part is people with the problems are key to solving the problems. And, those groups will have varying opinions on solutions. Thus, why I believe the lyric, “Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?” is so appropriate. We must also remember that with adaptive leadership, old ways need to change, and that will create a sense of loss for some (or a lot).

As I reflect on rising today to change this world, I believe we must, as leaders, not miss thinking, “What’s good, right, and just for everyone?”


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