Five Reasons to Lead Change

“Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can.”
– Martha Graham

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There are hundreds of reasons to take an active role in creating a better world. Here are just five of them.

You find yourself complaining a lot.
You find yourself starting too many sentences with phrases such as, “Why doesn’t somebody” or, “When are they going to.” You are that somebody.

Children depend on you.
Everyone can think of an issue where children are adversely affected through no fault of their own. The world needs to be safe for future generations.

You’re smart.
You know more about the issues that you’re passionate about than most people do. You’ve already got a head start on creating a solution.

Nobody should have to live in fear.
Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of failing, or fear of what other people think, fear limits our choices, our options, and our opportunities. You have more courage than you know.

You need to eat, drink, and breathe in order to live.
Despite differences in political ideology, everyone has some fundamental common ground when it comes to life’s necessities. Consider starting with issues that touch these commonalities, and find some unlikely allies.

Like I said, there are hundreds more reasons. Those reasons are connected directly to your most closely held values. You care. How can you not act?

 

The power of “why don’t we?”

I wrote a previous post, “When You’re Ready to Move from Talk to Action.” It focused on troubleshooting the implementation of strategies, campaigns, or projects. There is, of course, a point in time prior to the carrying out of plans, when a conscious decision is made to move from theory to the actual work of creating change.

My primary interest is how to better understand leadership around social change. I do recognize, however, that a considerable amount of the writing on topics in both leadership, and change comes out of the worlds of organizational development and organizational leadership. Some of it is universally useful.

I recently came across an image (below) in a blog post by Simon Terry, a consultant in the field of organizational development and leadership, which reminded me that regardless of the scale of change, organizational, or societal, some underlying questions remain the same. Regardless of the change you seek, the question that is going to get things done is: “why don’t we?”

Image: Simon Terry

Image: Simon Terry

The question of how to make that transformation straddles the planning, and the implementation stages. How implies a plan exists. “Why don’t we . . .” implies that there is action to take.

People who want to maintain the status quo:

  • Why don’t we . . . study this a little further?
  • Why don’t we . . . cover up the fact that this problem exists?
  • Why don’t we . . . just have a cooling off period of an indeterminate time to let complaints and questions blow over?

People who want to create change:

  • Why don’t we start working today to implement our plan for more effective, fair, and sustainable solutions?

Don’t wait for some mythical time when all risk will be mitigated. When you have a plan, work to make it happen.

When You’re Ready To Move From Talk To Action

“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.”
–    Paulo Coelho

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “action expresses priorities.” We can be outraged and upset about something, but unless we choose to act to change it, we are telling the rest of the world that it isn’t really that important after all.  Advocacy and educating people about issues is important. It gets peoples’ attention, and may rock some boats, but advocacy alone is not enough. You need to organize.

If you have a group of people who all agree that “A” is unacceptable, and that what they really want is “Z,” you have a common vision, but there are countless paths and countless acts between that vision and realizing change. You need to organize.

Organizing can be complex. It is so dependent upon personal relationships and personal politics, that we sometimes forget about some of the other factors that are crucial in creating change.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
–    Confucius

The popular and widely-used organizing tool below is from a chapter titled “A Framework for Thinking About Systems Change” by Timothy P. Knoster, Richard A. Villa, and Jacqueline S. Thousand, in the book,  Restructuring for Caring and Effective Education: Piecing the Puzzle Together . It was adapted from the work of Delores Ambrose. The matrix serves both as prescription and as a diagnostic tool when groups seeking change meet challenges in their pursuit.

changeHaving all the pieces doesn’t mean that your work is done, that you automatically go from A to Z. They get you from A to B (then celebrate briefly, and reflect on what you learned), and then from B to C (celebrate and reflect), and so on, until you reach your long-term goal.

This chart also reinforces the importance of asset-mapping. That’s how you know if you have the required skills or resources to carry out your plans. Passionate, caring, and motivated people still need the missing pieces. Leaders find those pieces.

More on the importance of organizing to come.

Risk-Averse Versus Risk-Taking

“The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”
– W. E. B. Du Bois

When your goal is to create change in the world, embracing risk is the foundation of leadership. Attempting to mitigate all risk out of an action eliminates any possibility that that action will result in substantive change.

Risk-averse people naively expect that success will simply to come to them.  Risk-takers understand that success requires creative, strategic pursuit. Your goal is to get people to act, and wholeheartedly embracing risk is the only prescription for overcoming complacency, apprehension, and fear of failure.

Risk ≠ Recklessness. The desire for change is not just emotional; it is also rooted in logic. Risk is calculated. It is a carefully considered series of if/then statements that reach a conclusion that risk has a return on investment. Without risk, the logic model remains theoretical. Risk demonstrates people’s capacity to achieve a stronger, more vibrant society.

risk-averse vs risk-taking

Somewhere along the line our concept the word risk became profoundly one-sided, framed primarily in undesirable terms. Don’t get caught in that mind trap.

risk
noun
1.
exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance:
“It’s not worth the risk.”
– dictionary.com

Risk is at the Core of Leadership

Be United
The idea of strength in numbers can make risk less scary. Leaders aren’t simply assessing risk on a personal level. They have locked arms with stakeholders sharing a common vision of what change needs to take place. Risks are shared as well.

Be Committed
Willingness to risk is a measure of commitment to values and to a shared vision of the change that needs to happen.

Be Creative
Willingness to risk is also a measure of creative thinking. If you can’t imagine a better future, it will never come about.

Be Radical
Transformative change is radical change.  Ending slavery was a radical idea. A woman voting was a radical idea. Don’t be concerned about being seen as radical. Be concerned about doing what is right.

Life is a continuous risk-taking process that goes something like this: risk, success or failure, learn, and repeat. You are working to change something. Change is impossible without risk, and change is required to better people’s lives.