Dr. Bennet Omalu is a heroic scientific leader. However, from a change management perspective, he spent years focused on the wrong people instead of those who care most.
In 2002, Omalu discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during an autopsy of former Pittsburg Steelers' center Mike Webster. Repeated head blows had led to the deterioration of Webster's brain and his demise at age 50. Over the next several years, Omalu and others worked to bring this to the attention of National Football League leadership, culminating in a presentation to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a league-wide concussion summit in 2007. There, the research was "dismissed".
Getting to yes
Omalu was talking to the wrong people. The balance of consequences for league management favored protecting the NFL brand and its revenue stream over protecting players
The breakthrough came when players and their families understood the findings and took up the cause. Not surprisingly they cared more about protecting their own and family members' brains than about the NFL brand and pushed the issue.
Eventually, in a congressional hearing last month, fourteen years after Omalu's discovery, Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety was asked, "Do you think there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE?" He replied, "Yes".
Start with "Who cares most?"
Revolutions aren't started by those reaping the rewards of the established system. They are started by that system's victims. The world's response to climate change is going to be led by the 500,000 people who, like the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, are about to be displaced by rising sea levels. Changes to the US healthcare system are going to be led by those unable to afford reasonable care. If you want real change, find those who care most. If no one cares enough, find something else to change.
This overriding question changes your approach to each of the other five BRAVE leadership questions: 1) Where to play? 2) What matters and why? 3) How to win? 4) How to connect? 5) What impact?
Where to play to benefit those who care most?
Move from a general perspective to what's most important in the context and environment for those who care most. Focus there. For Omalu this meant places in which football players banged their heads in practice or games.
What matters and why to those who care most?
People don't commit to leaders or organizations. They commit to causes, to doing good for others. Focus on what matters and why from the perspective of those who care most. For Omalu, these were football players' families.
How to win with those who care most?
Strategy, posture and culture are about differential choices. Get clear on those choices on the way to delivering what matters to those who care most. For Omalu this was the best in class scientific revelation that 28% of professional football players were going to suffer from CTE unless things changed.
How to connect with those who care most?
Almost by definition, a revolutionary message is not going to sit well with everyone. Don't worry about everyone. Worry about those who care most. Understand their platform for change, their picture of success and what they can do to move things forward. Build your message on that and deliver it to, with and through those who care most - like football families delivering Omalu's message to other football families.
What impact on those who care most?
The first four questions are interesting but useless until you and your followers put things into action. Omalu's research was of no real value until people started changing habits and practices with a positive impact on those who care most. Focus on positive, valuable impact, otherwise you're just banging heads.
The world needs artistic, scientific and interpersonal leaders like Omalu. Interpersonal leaders can better help get the word out on artistic and scientific leadership by starting with the question "Who cares most?"