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  • Gilbert Kruidenier

What Change Leadership?!

This article is a contribution to the #ChangeBlogChallenge, started by Heather Stagl and Jennifer Frahm to share the wisdom and opinions from the global Change Community.

I know, I know, we’re supposed to play nice, be the voice of reason, not get emotional and all that good stuff. I tried that. Get a foot in the door, change ‘them’ from the inside, make the compromise to get a result. And you know what? It’s bullshit. Yep, I just said that and I am not even sorry.

Having assessed my last six years in Change, I have to conclude that it’s possible to work really hard and still not make a REAL difference. I did good work and helped more than a few people, but ultimately didn’t accomplish my goal of changing Change and having organisations operate in better ways. That’s disappointing and probably a signal for me to start thinking of a career change, but it’s not what makes me angry.

In preparation for this article, I tried to get a sense of what passes for Change leadership nowadays and on the very first Google page, there’s a McKinsey article about Real Change Leaders. From 1996. It’s a good read and so current it could have been written yesterday.

My search went downhill from there. Listicles, guru master expert trainings. Three, four, seven, twelve and seventeen things all great change leaders must do. Regurgitated models from the 90’s, daily rounds of buzzword bingo and the inevitable saviour with a new book every month. It’s so ridiculous it’s just not funny anymore. That’s what makes me angry. Not frustrated, not sad and not even disappointed. Angry.

I don’t like this angry version of me, but this is not a ‘go-for-a-walk-and get-it-out-of-your-system’ kind of anger, this has been a slow burn for at least two years and that’s a long time to hold onto something. Why so angry? So glad you asked!

As recent as last week I saw what the future of Change can be in a workshop that should have had 100 participants and 10 more sessions lined up for this month. But there was no certificate with a gold star at the end, so there were a lot less people (but man, were they good!). Or the one about a very talented change colleague who cannot get a foot in the door because she’s so far refused and doesn’t have a silly certificate that says she understands A/agile. Seriously, the lunatics are truly running the asylum now. And we’ve let them.

We keep allowing ourselves to get hired by people who have a flexible relation with reality and truth, with no clue about Change, working off a checklist they found on the interweb, who ask us to do things that don’t work for their misinformed organisations because they think it’s a good idea to make people behave in ways that even a trained circus animal would frown at. But hey, it’s all for the greater good, right?

No, it’s not. And we know that too. But the economy, mortgage, benefits, conventions and career path seem the key priorities still. Also, the cape and superhero costume are a nice bonus, even if our only superpower is making very clear copies of yesteryear’s safe and comfortable plans. So, from a splatter-free distance we valiantly cheer on the (very) few brave souls who make a stand and get trampled or boo-ed as dissenters, radicals and broken records. Then we whisper about their halting careers at networking drinks to return back to the copier the next day, counting our blessings and scheduling the next round of training.

No wonder some of the smartest and most progressive minds in Change are stepping away, unnoticed by all but the angriest amongst us. Have a look around, see what you find. I might be wrong, it happens (a lot), but some of who I consider to be the best minds have gone very silent. Maybe we just can’t hear them any more over the loudness of this month’s newly announced saviour. Maybe their consistent badgering with those inconvenient truths about higher standards, innovative practices and ethics started grating on our sensibilities and sometimes fragile egos. Who knows, but I miss them in my feed something fierce.

Okay, I get it. Politely telling a client that their grand plan is insanely unethical, not to mention hopelessly unrealistic and has so little care factor that it would make even Vladimir Putin uncomfortable, is unlikely to happen for most of us. But I need to believe we are better than that and that we can do better than that.

I know it happens, because I see some of us who actually practice that better way. And better is not spending one day in a workshop to get a certificate that is not worth the paper it’s printed on (however beautifully designed) or blaming your client who is clearly an idiot, but you won’t say that to her face because you don’t respect her enough for that. Just enough to take her money…

And don’t get me started on the self-diagnosed victim practitioners. Like this job that ‘only’ pays $800/day is the only one they will ever get, so they hang on for dear life and sacrifice all that is good and true on the altar of ‘job security. Until they find a slightly better deal and off they go for another few months, accomplishing nothing in the long term. Please excuse me while I wipe a tear from my eye with your monthly $10,000+ pay check. Poor you.

No accountability whatsoever about the things that get done to people during your time with the project, because you are ‘just following orders’… Obviously YOU can’t own the change and no one ever said anything about actually being accountable for the outcomes of action you agreed to! The words “disgrace to the profession” are the friendliest that comes to mind for these practitioners. You’re a consultant/adviser for crying out loud, it’s not supposed to be safe and comfy, that’s how you know you’re doing it right!

It’s not about us, it’s about the people in our care. Yes, even Bill and Mary who are ‘resisting’ or Kim and Jim who just can’t keep up with all the impact assessments, readiness checks and one-off engagement workshops. They were doing real work, having been overloaded for months now and are teetering on the brink of a burnout. Let’s schedule some training to make sure they are on board, shall we?

We are supposed to look out for them and stand firm when others can’t or don’t feel safe enough to do so. We fight the insanity that can be the annual strategy off-site and we are the voice of reason when everyone else is too stressed out of their mind to think straight for more than 10 minutes. That is our one job. We lead Change. And we should do that by the being the best possible example for our followers. Even when ‘they’ are not listening, don’t get it, disagree, resist, ridicule or disengage. We are all they have and they need us more than ever, even if they can’t see that in the moment. Thankless job? Maybe. But we’re all still here, aren’t we?

And as long as we are, might as well show them what REAL Change leadership looks like:

1. More empathy, less avoidance

2. More values, less valuables

3. More push back, less compromise

4. More principles, less procedures

5. More questions, less answers

6. More context, less templates

7. More embracing complexity, less over-complication

And for the love of all that is good, can we all please stop saying that an O365 implementation is a digital transformation? Just, stop. Please. Thank you!

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