Changing Places

To us, the term “changing places” really means changing places from the organization you are now to the one you want to become

Why change in the first place? If you consider that 50% of Fortune 500 companies of thirty years ago no longer exist today, the answer seems obvious. Yet, many company owners and senior executives shudder at the thought…because change is messy, hard, and difficult. According to the Harvard Business Review, 75% of corporate change initiatives fail. Business Week cites the fact that 88% of CEOs report change is their “biggest challenge.”

Understanding change is half the battle. In reality, business is change. We are embarked on a roller coaster ride in the corporate world, with the path being far from straight, or continuously upward (or downward)…instead, we are jerked around through sharp turns, the ride slows down, then speeds up with sudden force, then seems to coast — only to spin wildly on a moment’s notice — and then accelerate again. In this chaotic, almost daily series of fits and starts, it’s not surprising that many leaders just want to hang on for dear life. And if we’re making payroll and keeping the stakeholders happy, why not just hold on to the rails?

But there is a fundamental difference between going through the fits and starts of corporate life and driving change, controlling many of the forces at work to guide your company’s path. Level Five leaders get off of the roller coaster and set the conditions for their company’s strategic plan. They understand that changing places is not an endurance trial of hanging on; rather, it’s a journey to a known point. Exceptional leaders guide change in their organizations. They understand that it’s not a straight line from here to there. It’s a journey with an end state in mind.

Underneath the ability to lead change rests the most powerful weapon in the arsenal to get to the end state — effective leadership. Nowhere is that foundation better understood, or appreciated, than at West Point. In his foreword to the book Leadership Lessons from West Point (Leader to Leader Institute, 2007), Jim Collins stated:

“Encoded into the West Point approach are two eternal truths. First, the medium and long term future cannot be predicted, and second, the best ‘strategy’ in a volatile environment lies in having right people who embody your organizations’ core values and can adapt to unanticipated challenges.”

Faced with the certainty of change, and the uncertainty of change, effective leaders set the azimuth (direction) for their organizations with a clear mission, intent, and core values, develop a strategic plan to reach the key priorities, and focus their energies on building the leader team of the “right people” as Collins writes. And these “right people” have to be placed (to use Collins terminology again) “in the right seat on the right bus.”

Changing places between what you are now, and what you will become, requires all of these ingredients. Level Five leaders serve those they lead, and keep the organization pointed and resourced in the right direction — even when the roller coaster twists and turns seem endless. Effective leaders understand the mission and intent, and they will not falter in the close fight of day operations. They’ll do the right thing when no one is looking. They enable senior leaders to drive change, resulting in higher profits, greater cohesion, and market superiority.

Make a real commitment to changing places. Don’t settle for riding the roller coaster, or take counsel of your fears regarding change and ignore its absolute reality. Design the track, and nurture the leaders who will adapt to the ups and downs, starts and stops, because they are well trained, well resourced, and well led. You can do it; enjoy the journey!