People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed! ~Peter Senge

Author John P. Kotter begins Leading Change with this statement: “The single most important message in this book is very simple. People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

To get us all on the same page, the definition of change management is “The discipline that guides how we prepare, equip, and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes (” In my own words, change management is about helping people emotionally and psychologically adopt change. Or, recognizing that we change more because of how we feel, not as much because of what we think.

A year ago, I spent a day observing a leadership team of a global organization go through change management training. The day was filled with models like the change reaction curve (our emotional response to change), detailed processes how to influence change of both individual and collective behavior, and all the various roles necessary to influence change. Closing out the day with how to create metaphors to communicate a truth to influence how others feel about change.

(Sigh!) After all of that focus on how to help people feel their way through change, there were still leaders in this group at the end of the day saying, “I think we need to talk more about the ‘business case’ (analysis) for implementing change.” Argh! Really?! At least that’s what I was thinking in the back of the room.

When faced with a decision, how we feel about something many times (if not most of the time) determines our final choice. Think about the last time you made a big decision (bought a home, moved to a new city, quit your job, etc.). When you made that final decision, did you say to yourself, or to someone else, “this just feels like the right choice”? The data and analysis will frequently narrow the choices, but at the end of the day, we choose to change, or not, by how we feel about it.

I believe that leaders are frequently promoted because they are skilled at making analytical decisions. But, those decisions can’t be effectively implemented if others aren’t following. And others will follow, or not, based upon how they feel about what’s being proposed. The process to garner support and followers (AKA: change management) is quite different from the process to make the analytical, strategic, or technical changes (AKA: project management). If you want to bring people with you, they have to feel it.

Is your organization currently going through a change? What are you showing them to influence their feelings about the change?  “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~Charles Darwin


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3 Critical Steps to Get the Most Out of Your SWOT Analysis

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. ~Michael Porter

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is only the beginning of identifying a strategy. I see too many organizations conduct a SWOT and stop there; not knowing how to turn that analysis into a strategy. This is what I believe should be the outcome of a SWOT.

First, here’s my working definition of creating strategy. Creating strategy = identifying a few strengths and/or unique attributes that can be intentionally leveraged to your advantage toward solving an external problem or felt need, while recognizing and mitigating risk.

Second, my definitions of SWOT.

(a) STRENGTHS: includes not only what you do really well, but also what is unique about your organization and/or what you do. (b) WEAKNESSES: what you do not do well. (I’d stay away from using language like “what’s not working” because that implies it needs to be fixed. Not all weaknesses need to be fixed.)  (c) OPPORTUNITIES: this list should include all things external to your organization that could provide direction for what you choose to do and how you do it—technological changes, changing competitive landscape, regulations, innovations, cultural shifts, demographic swings, etc. (d) THREATS: this list is similar to opportunities but focuses on anything external that could have a significant negative impact on what you choose to do.

If you’ve kept each one of those four lists in its appropriate lane, you can now identify a strategy.

Step 1: Look at your lists of STRENGTHS and OPPORTUNITIES side by side. Using my definition of strategy, what specific strengths and/or unique attributes can you intentionally leverage to your advantage toward anything you’ve put on the opportunities list? This could mean that your strategy doesn’t focus on what you consider your #1 strength. If there’s not a viable opportunity (external problem or felt need) for you to intentionally leverage that strength, then that doesn’t align with the definition of strategy. You might discover that the strength you would have put third or fourth on your list if you were to rank order them, could be intentionally leveraged toward solving one of the opportunities you identified.

The best strategy comes from first pairing your strengths with the opportunities where you can have the greatest likelihood for success.

Step 2: Next, look at your list of THREATS. Are there any threats that would create too great of a risk to pursue what you identified in Step 1? Any threats that would essentially veto that strategy? Are there initiatives you could implement to help mitigate some of that risk?

Step 3: Lastly, look at your list of WEAKNESSES. What weaknesses, if any, do you need to address in order to ensure that you can accomplish the strategy you’ve identified? Notice that spending time fixing weaknesses is the last thing you would do to create a strategy, and is the last priority in determining what strategy to pursue. That’s why it may not be a prudent use of resources to fix weaknesses that have little or no impact on your strategy.

It’s your turn. What’s your strategy?



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Six Attributes of a “Frog in a Kettle” Leader

Absentee leadership rarely comes up in today’s leadership or business literature, but research shows that it is the most common form of incompetent leadership. ~Scott Gregory

Scott Gregory describes a scenario I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion. A leader who always provides feedback that consists of “You’re doing a great job.” However, you know it’s not true and you’re not meeting their expectations. What is really needed is more support and better (i.e., real) feedback.

Hence, the title of the article authored by Gregory is The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader. Gregory explains that because these “absentee leaders don’t actively make trouble, their negative impact on organizations can be difficult to detect…When it is detected, it often is considered a low-priority problem.” After all, it’s not embezzlement or harassment or something unethical, it’s not anything that would typically fall under the purview of a whistleblower policy, so it’s categorized as differing leadership styles. Gregory refers to these absentee leaders as “silent organization killers.”

It reminds me of a frog in a kettle. I’ve never tried to prove or disprove this scientific fact. But as I’ve read, if you put a frog in a kettle of water and gradually heat the kettle, the frog won’t sense the change and will eventually boil to death without trying to escape the hot water. However, if you were to put a frog in a kettle of boiling water it would immediately jump out to safety.

The damage of an absentee leader is much like that of a frog in a kettle. The damage that is being done happens slowly. Until, it’s too late and recovery is next to impossible.

How to recognize an absentee/”Frog in a Kettle” leader?

  • They enjoy the privileges and perks of leadership
  • They avoid meaningful involvement with their team
  • They don’t do anything (good or bad) to attract attention
  • They don’t provide constructive criticism
  • They don’t recognize employee achievements
  • They don’t provide clear direction

While leaders and managers who are on the top of the employee complaint list need to be addressed, so too do the absentee leaders. Letting them slide because they tend to fly under the radar is like putting a frog in a kettle and gradually turning up the heat. Eventually, the water is going to boil and you won’t be able to recover from the consequences.

If you are a leader, it’s prudent to reflect frequently about your own leadership. What’s the last specific meaningful involvement you had with your team? When was the last time you provided constructive criticism? When was the last time you recognized employee achievements? Has your effort not to micromanage actually morphed into a lack of clear direction? Are you enjoying the privileges and perks of leadership just a tad too much (that special parking spot, your healthy expense account, the club membership, etc.)?

Absentee leaders – the most common type of incompetent leader – like a frog in a kettle.

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4 Behaviors the Newest Royal Couple Can Teach Leaders

Leadership is not a position, or a title, it is action and example. ~Cory Booker

It was hard not to see or hear about the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The event dominated every news (and entertainment) medium for a week. While listening to a Monarchy expert being interviewed on NPR, their perspective on the newest royal couple made me think about what it means to really lead.

This person said that they believed Harry and Meghan would have more influence as to how the Monarchy is viewed or perceived than would Prince William and Kate. Even though, it’s William who is in line to be king. As I’ve contemplated this statement, I thought of four behaviors I’ve seen from Harry and Meghan that could cause this prediction to become reality.

Behavior 1: Challenge the status quo. Their relationship alone is a challenge to the Monarchy status quo. The CNN headline says it all, “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle marry in trailblazing ceremony.” However, I would add, they were always very respectful. I think that Travis Bradberry’s quote about influential people describes the new royal couple. “Influential people are never satisfied with the status quo. They’re the ones who constantly ask, ‘What if?’ and ‘Why not?’ They’re not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, and they don’t disrupt things for the sake of being disruptive; they do it to make things better.”

Behavior 2: Let your passions be known. Even before the couple was engaged, I was aware of Harry’s passion for wounded warriors and Meghan’s passion for women’s issues. They weren’t shy about their passions. Steve Jobs said, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”

Behavior 3: Be relatable. One of the reasons the Monarchy expert on NPR believes that Harry and Meghan will be so influential is because they seem to be the most relatable of any of the royal family. And people are more likely to follow someone with whom they can relate. John C. Maxwell describes the importance of being relatable: “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

Behavior 4: Be authentic. Brene’ Brown defines authenticity as, “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Ann Fudge said that “Authenticity and knowing who you are is fundamental to being an effective and long-standing leader.” And from the bride herself, Meghan Markle: “The people who are close to me anchor me in knowing who I am. The rest is noise.”

It will be interesting to see how history unfolds for the Monarchy and the newest royal couple. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time Harry and Meghan will be leading on the world’s stage and challenging all of us to think and move in new directions.

Challenge the status quo. Let your passions be known. Be relatable. Be authentic. Leadership is not a position, or a title, it is action and example.

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What distinguishes leaders from laggards?

What distinguishes leaders from laggards and greatness from mediocrity is the ability to uniquely imagine what could be. ~Robert Fritz

“The Spirit of Progress”

When I first moved to my condo in Chicago I had a bird’s eye view of The Montgomery. This is a condo building that was once home to the retail giant Montgomery Ward. I remember watching the transition; at one point it was stripped to the concrete pillars and I could see all the way through the building. This image resurfaces whenever I hear someone say their organization could have X number of clients, customers, or sales without even trying (i.e. laggards). It could be that Montgomery Ward believed that to be true as well.

What still remains atop the former Montgomery Ward Administration Building across the street is the statue, somewhat ironically entitled, “The Spirit of Progress.”

Another building, just north of the Administration Building is the former two million square foot Mail Order House (a single floor covers six acres). The interior contained miles of chutes, conveyors, and storage lofts. At one time the building had its own post office branch and a ground-floor shipping platform that could accommodate 24 railroad freight cars. Today, this is where you’ll find Groupon HQ, and yes, many more condos.

In my last post, I quoted Sue Barrett’s definition of strategic: Being strategic means ensuring the organization’s core competence is consistently focusing on those directional choices that will best move the organization toward its new future. Something that Montgomery Ward did not do.

In 1962 Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies, published a theory in his book Diffusion of Innovations. His theory outlines a process by which an innovation is adopted over time. It’s the shape of a bell curve beginning with the innovators (2.5%), then on to the early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), and finally closing out the bell curve with the laggards (16%). [Rogers’ book is in its fifth edition and continues to be frequently referenced.]

I think it’s easy for organizations to become comfortable with making directional choices based upon their laggards—the people (customers, clients, etc.) who will always be there. It feels “safe” in the short term, but could be very risky in the long term. There’s a reason they are laggards; they don’t like change. Consequently, it’s likely that the laggards are the most vocal when you make directional choices that don’t mirror the past.

Directional choices (i.e., strategy) should be moving the organization toward its new future. That means leaders’ strategic choices need to focus on the initial part of the bell curve – the innovators, early adopters, early majority.

When I read about the history of Montgomery Ward and compare and contrast that with what Amazon is looking for in its HQ2, it’s unfortunate that Montgomery Ward made choices to serve their laggards. In many ways their basic mission and even infrastructure isn’t that different from Amazon. The difference is that Amazon is constantly making directional choices to move the organization toward its new future – they have a dynamic strategy.

Strategic leaders don’t build their strategy based on their laggards. They make directional choices to always be moving the organization toward its new future.

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