Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Affecting Positive Chage

Somewhere between Michael Jackson stories this weekend the news media reported on the resignation of Sarah Palin as the Alaska governor. In the clip below Palin talks repeatedly about "affecting positive change," a statement that has resulted in many debates over the airwaves about how an agent of change should go about influencing positive change. While my intent is typically to avoid the morass of politics on this blog, this is just to interesting to ignore. Palin supporter or not, her press conference and follow up interviews have definitely put being a change freak at the top of the news once again.

Watch a clip of the Palin News Conference

Palin begins her comments here repeatedly discussing "affecting positive change" and asserts that she will be able to do this better outside of government. In a later interview with CNN she said she doesn't "need a title to affect change." What do you think? Is a title or position needed to affect change? Certainly one can be a change agent without a title or leadership position. I'm reminded of a tough day I experienced years ago with attending officer training for the US Air Force. I thought I was doing well surviving the vigors of the training when I was called into a one on one meeting with my commanding officer. He bluntly asked what my problem was and stated that I wasn't showing the kind of leadership he expected from me. A bit surprised I responded by telling him that I was waiting until I had the opportunity to be in a formal leadership role at the training to show my leadership ability. Wrong answer. He gave me some advice I will never forget. He said a leader leads regardless of his position or title. A true leader (and change agent?) seeks opportunities to lead where they are, today. I took his admonition to heart and began to look for opportunities to fill a gap or volunteer when others hesitated to step forward.

I've since seen this same principle play out in my business experience as well. Many organizations are tyrannized by the "thems" and the "somebodies." Processes fail and because of the crazy decisions "they" have made, and the organization waits endlessly for "somebody" to do something! It's impossible to quantify the damage that "they" have done to business and the failure of the "somebodies" to do something about it!

Okay, seriously, isn't senior leadership support the key to real, transformational change? Well, certainly affecting change can be much more difficult if you don't have the support of your leadership. And transformational change can be helped along immensely through the active and public support of the organization's senior leadership. Not having senior leadership support can make being a change freak a bit dangerous as well. Business consultant and change freak Tom Peters has been quoted as saying "If you haven't been fired by age 30, you're not pushing your boundaries." I would suspect the firings he refers to has more to do with pushing the boundaries of your leaders than just yourself!

All this aside, you don't have to be a leader with the title and formal authority to affect positive change in your organization. You must have a personal commodity that is far rarer than titles and positions: you have to be willing. Willing to step forward when it would be more comfortable to hide in the crowd. Willing to take a risk by pushing the boundaries. Willing to take the unconventional path when others are cautioning you to slow down or conform. Willing to look in the mirror when others are searching for "them" and "somebody." Willing to be a change freak!

I suppose time will tell if Sarah Palin made a good decision in resigning the governorship of Alaska to "affect positive change." I suspect the most positive change she hopes to affect is to get her family off the firing line of the national media. But while a good point guard may pass the ball when she attracts a crowd, she certainly doesn't leave the game at halftime. Time will tell if this decision was unconventional brilliance or the swan song of a "Maverick." I'm not waiting to see. There's too much positive change to affect right where I am today...

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