Change Masters: How They Lead for Success

by Ph. D., CSP, CPAE

If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you'll be ready to stop managing and start leading.

– Executive Development Systems

The new economy is a dangerous place. It is unforgiving, and it measures human life in dog years: Three years wasted on the wrong pursuits, or, just as bad, in avoiding the right ones, leaves you 21 years older and farther off track. There's never a time for comfort. Now, can you act as though you know that? The interesting challenge is to know that if you don't go far enough, you'll never know how far you can go.

– Harriet Rubin

In today's global economy, the answers to sustaining success are not found in getting closure; they are found in moving forward to sustain and expand an organization's reputation for excellence. The best leaders do not just want a good year; they want to further and enhance a dynasty. The best don't just initiate change; they make change work over and over again as the business grows and changes. As a result, there is an unsettling truth about leadership in the future; the change leaders' race will never be over. The great game of leadership is no more likely to be finished than your family's favorite television soap opera. Instead, organizations and the men and women who lead them will have to be ready to keep inventing the future. As markets mature, leaders are left with a choice—to be change masters or change blockers! Far too many begin to put up roadblocks to change, deny threats or competition and embrace entitlement! Change masters see business maturity as in invitation to refocus, retool and reinvent the organization to better serve customers.

It's tough for us to accept that we don't control the rules of the game anymore. We've got to be ready to battle formidable competitors everyday, forever, without a break.

– Bill Almon

You've got people out there who still are convinced that they're just one change away from tranquility, that all they've got to do is get re-engineering right and then life is going to slow down. Well, it's not going to.

– Daryl Conner, Managing at the Speed of Change

In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.

– J. Paul Getty

Manage the Leadership Tensions Involved in Making Change Work

Change masters focus less on enduring answers and more on managing the leadership tensions. Instead of looking for one-dimensional trends that will briefly dominate the future only to fade into history, leaders work to harness the constant tension of forces that will always be part of a change leader's journey. Seemingly contradictory forces—valuing the past and embracing the future, driving a vision but being open to strategic innovation, being tight where you can and loose where you need to invest, majoring in accountability and support—these and other dynamic tensions, once mastered, will give you an edge in continuing to invent the future for your people and your organization.

A visionary company doesn't simply balance between preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to the extreme.

– Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last

In the fast lane of constant change, all must be challenged to get on board in order to shape its desired course. Instead of trying to relieve stress by giving people the promise of calm after the next change and then watch the trust take a dive when the next change is announced, be honest—"We are never going to be finished with change. Be excited! You will never be bored again! Who wants the "good old days" when we are creating the new good old days for your organization! Every leadership book talks about embracing change! Where is the tension here? It's time for a little straight talk—Not every change is for the better! While it is true that every improvement is the result of change, not every change is an improvement. The past has value, and it can be a source of inspiration and continuity. At the same time, the past shouldn't have an automatic veto. You need to take the best from the past and best from the future to forge your way into the future. That means turmoil. If you ever felt that certain people in your organization were designed to frustrate you, you are probably right. Somewhere in the struggle for the best strategy you will need to keep the change agents and the status quo seekers talking together to get the best out of both. Neither has a lock on truth! Leaders must learn to value and learn from both groups to find their way. You don't want a change frenzy that creates an overworked, cynical workforce; you want to promote strategic change that makes a difference to your customers.

What is worth holding onto from your organization's past? What needs to be let go of to move forward?

Use Your Vision, Mission and Business Goals as a Flexible Compass

If you're not serving the Customer, you'd better be serving someone who is.

– Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS

Vision without action is only a dream. Action without vision is just passing the time. Vision with action can change the world.

– Joel Barker

Your change agents, the people who really see the future, pull the organization along. But if they get too far out, if they don't circle back, they lose people.

– Thomas M. Kasten

In the midst of uncertainty, it is critical that the leaders focus on stronger execution of strategy in pursuit of delivering consistent results. They need to sustain a sense of urgency and speed while being able to remain flexible in pursuit of those results. That means that whether the future brings boom times or economic down times, the best leaders keep harnessing the natural tension created by driving the current vision while still being open to the innovative happy accidents that usher in new strategic opportunities that customers demand. Have a firm belief in your current business goals but balance that focus with a rock-solid commitment to strategic innovation and enabling technology. Change masters who are both focused and flexible value business strategy and surprise.

The key to your impact as a leader is your own sincerity. Before you can inspire others with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe.

– Winston Churchill

Driving your vision helps provide hope and focus for your future. An honest look at current reality helps energize that vision and gets your people motivated to move. People crave a meaningful direction and a leader who keeps the organization moving. Instead of expecting or waiting for a perfect laser-focused vision, work with key stakeholders to stake out a direction and then work with your people to refine that vision as you move. Stay collaborative and open to adjustments to keep the vision compelling. The biggest difference between a vision and a hallucination is the number of people who can see it; involving your stakeholders keeps the vision theirs. The companies with the most confident and committed leaders who are deep within the ranks are the companies that make change work.

I could detect a distinct correlation between this notion of vision and performance. ... The good ones had a vision. As for the bad ones, it was hard to tell why the people had come to work that morning.

– Donald Povejsil

The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive.

– John W. Gardner

Spend as much time on opportunity management as you do on operations management.

– Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad

There is no giant CEO brain making global allocation decisions. I believe every company needs a combination of resource allocation and resource attraction. Rather than relegating innovators to some largely peripheral 'incubator,' work instead to create vibrant internal markets for capital and for those who compete for talent—markets in which anyone with a slightly eccentric idea has the opportunity to solicit funding from anyone with a bit of discretionary budget, and talent from anyone with a few spare cycles.

– Gary Hamel

The best executives are also comfortable communicating and driving a fuzzy but strategic focus. Making progress on an imperfect 10 degrees of direction will always be better than being immobilized by facing the chaos created by 360 degrees of unfocused choices. One of the reasons your destination will never be reached or fully defined is that customer demands will provide real-world, course-correction data and new opportunities not yet imagined. Keep your eyes on the changing horizon and stay nimble. Work to reinvent yourself instead of waiting for competitors to do it for you. Increase your odds of success by embracing innovation, but only within your strategic focus. Once you capitalize on one innovation, expect others to surface.

Never forget ... that the most difficult thing in doing good business is to say no to bad business, the bad opportunities. ... You must always decide who your customer is ... and you should say no to every option that is not related to that customer's need.

– Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS

Sometimes customers don't know what they need. If you asked a 19th-century farmer what he needed, he would have said a bigger horse. He wouldn't have said a tractor.

– Robert J. Kriegel

Whether you are driving your vision or taking advantage of new innovation, remember the words of Peter Drucker, "The essence of strategy is denial." Care enough to say "no" to everything that is not strategically focused. No organization can do it all and retain excellence. No organization can risk not capitalizing on strategic innovation and still survive. Focus on targeting your innovative risk taking and strategic positioning to make a difference where it counts for you and your customers.

How do you drive your vision and business goals? How do you make sure your vision and mission show in your strategic change decisions?

Copyright © Terry Paulson, All Rights Reserved

About the Author
Terry Paulson

Dr. Terry Paulson is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, national columnist and author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Your Actions into Results. Learn more at

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