There exists significant temptation and, indeed, a near-compulsive need among managers to be in control of every aspect of a business”s operations. Leaders are trained from an early age that it is their role to use processes and their own smarts to ensure that a business is, above all else, prepared to handle the various challenges thrown its way. This is, of course, a highly noble thought, but it comes with one significant problem that must be noted by any person looking to perform honest analysis on the role of leadership in managing business today: some things cannot be managed. Chief among these things is change, as it is, by its very nature, a thing that exists outside of the organic, controllable structure that is often available to business leaders and other managers.
In Understanding Change, the author makes interesting points about the nature of change and just what people can do about it. Perhaps the most important concept that this book focuses on is complexity of modern business. As it notes, “Leading in a culture of change is about unlocking the mystery of living organizations” (Fullan, p. 46). This is why the book focuses less on what it calls “action steps” and more on a theoretical understanding of situations and how individuals should think about those situations. There are so many potential individual situations that could take place, and if a book wanted to catalogue each of them, that book would need to be many thousands of pages long. More than being simple-to-understanding bodies with well-defined properties and predictable natures, businesses are living, breathing entities, and much like teenagers, they can and will change on a whim from one month or year to the next. With that in mind, the first step to controlling a business is to relinquish control over this particular aspect, opting instead to allow change to happen in a way that is both positive and potentially profitable for an organization.
The chapter all makes clear that in order to change the culture of an organization, leaders must be willing to engage in hard work and heavy lifting. Reculturing, as the book coins it, is a nearly full-time job in itself, and it requires a leader with the patience and dynamic persuasiveness to get people to act in a certain way over a long period of time. Those who are looking to change the culture of an organization are not facing a short fight where they are required to produce the right set of materials to put out in a corporate newsletter. Instead, they are faced with the challenge of motivating men and women to act in a different manner, placing different priorities on things that they might not have valued in the past. Though the chapter does not use this precise language, it is describing the challenge of getting a large group of people to believe and adhere to an operating framework that they might not even believe in. The first job for leaders is to recognize the challenge and settle in for the long run. Those who are successful will have earned that success with the patience and determination of the long game.
Likewise, the author of this chapter cautions against one of the most dangerous and frustrating temptations for today”s leaders. There is some temptation to try to always have the best ideas. Though having the best ideas is a good goal, it is not enough. Even companies and leaders with good ideas will fail to find success if they are unable to get other people to buy into those ideas. This is why leaders must stop believing that they have done their job by coming up with an organizational culture or philosophy that answers the challenges of a changing market. This is only the start of the process. The real challenge is getting people to act on a good idea, and even more importantly, getting people to, themselves, believe that the good idea is one worth believing in.
- Fullan, M. (2007). Leading in a culture of change. Jossey-Bass Books.