Understanding Change Is Good... You Go First

hand writing light bulb on...
hand writing light bulb on...

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance a lot less." -- Tom Feltenstein

Some months ago I was sitting with some colleagues talking about challenges we all face trying to be effective leaders. In the middle of ideas bouncing all around the room, Carol Taylor referenced a book titled Change is Good...You Go First. Sometimes just the title sells the book and after hearing that one, I knew I had to get it.

Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein have compiled in just over 100 pages a list of 21 ways to inspire change. Although I will not list all of them here, I would like to identify some of their insights which spoke to me when I first read them and to this day I am still thinking about them.

The first words grabbed my attention, "Change is not easy, but it is simple." Peter Drucker once said, "It's easier for companies to come up with new ideas than to let go of old ones." Any organization can be encumbered by the hoarded baggage from the past. On the corner of my desk is this anonymous quote, "From the altars of the past, take the flame and leave the ash."

Another important quality of leadership is that leaders must lead with speed. Ron Marshall bought his first house in New York. It was 65 years old and needed lots of fixing up. His realtor said, "Ron, you have to immediately make a list of all the things you want done and do it in the next six months."

Ron said, "I'm broke now but I'm a disciplined guy and I'll get everything fixed over the next few years." She said, "No you won't, because after six months you'll get used to it. You'll get used to stepping over the dead body in the living room." Later Ron confessed that she was right and he was wrong because when he sold the house five years later, the body was still there.

According to Anderson and Feltenstein, change will never happen unless we inspire and accept personal responsibility. They quote Frank Tyger who said, "Your future depends on many things, but mostly yourself." As Lily Tomlin testified, "I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody."

Change sometimes takes time. We need to respect the growing process. There is a story about a Japanese executive who stressed the need for patience and discipline when it comes to quality. "Sometimes," he said, "the quality process is like farming bamboo. Once a bamboo seed is planted the farmer waters it every day. He does that for four years before the tree even breaks ground. But, when it finally does, it grows 60 feet in the next 90 days."

We must always measure the results. Everyone needs a target to shoot at because without a target, we can shoot in any direction and we never know if we are hitting anything worthwhile. Are we making progress toward our goal? As Peter Drucker said, "What gets measured gets improved."

Any good gardener knows she must pull the weeds. Anything that does not contribute to the mission must be removed. "In the long run," Anderson and Feltenstein declare, "if a leader keeps to the path of least resistance and lets weeds grow, they will risk losing credibility with those who make the team flourish." Jim Collins in Good to Great speaks of "getting the right people on the bus" and then "getting them in the right seat on the bus."

From follow your convictions to reinforce, reinforce, reinforce, and from inspire with stories to set the stage for innovation, these authors provide a bundle of practical ideas to help anyone bring change to any organization.

Their ideas encourage us to alter the title of their book from Change is Good...You Go First. to Change is Good...Let Me Go First.

Think about it.

This post was originally published in The Phoenix. Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu. Visit Dr. Don Meyer's Facebook page.