What Can Winston Churchill Teach Us about Leading Change?

While in London, I had the pleasure of visiting the Churchill Museum, an extremely well-preserved vista into the past, displaying the underground rooms where Churchill, his ministers, military advisors and staff led the effort to win the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War II.  It was amazing to see history frozen in time, and learn so many details of the life of this great man and the trials and tribulations of that great generation.

Leading change can so often feel like a war zone – devising plans and strategies, arming ourselves with tools and tactics, focusing on the mission and averting scope creep, engaging stakeholders both allies and enemies, overcoming resistance, striving for small wins during the many battles to win the war, avoiding land mines, juggling scarce resources, regrouping and redeploying, coping with stress and battle fatigue, negotiating terms and conditions – I could go on and on, the analogies are seemingly endless.

Visiting the museum caused me to ponder what we as change leaders can learn from Churchill and his stewardship of WWII.  Among many other talents, he was known for his wry wit and exception oratory prowess.  Here’s a sample relevant for all of us in the business of leading change:

  • “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Churchill said this in response to criticisms about the fact that he changed political parties.  Indeed, this quote is the essence of Change Intelligence:  to lead change, we must start with ourselves first.  This is one way that great leaders are both courageous and vulnerable – they reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and course correct – sometimes in very public ways – to ensure their behaviors match their values and goals, even when it’s not easy.
  • “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  This quote reinforces the fact that change can be a long and arduous journey.  While most of us will never have to endure bombing raids or food rationing, we all need to cope with the emotional tribulations of letting go of the old and grappling with the new, and our own and others’ feelings of loss, confusion, and fear.
  • “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”  In this quote Churchill was praising the Royal Air Force, giving thanks for their heroism and sacrifice while fighting the Battle of Britain, during which Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed the country relentlessly for months on end.  So often leading change can seem like a thankless job, and we can feel scarred and shell-shocked during the fight and for quite some time after it’s over.  Great change leaders acknowledge the hard work – both effort and outcomes – that helps us fight the good fight and prevail against what can seem like insurmountable odds.

One more footnote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister in 1940, when he was 65 years old, and remained active in British and global politics long after the war ended, retiring at age 81.  Throughout the war and beyond, he is said to have outworked his staff.  I like to keep that in mind every time I get an invitation to join AARP in the mail!  We’re never too old to make world-changing contributions, and we benefit from the wisdom of our elders.

Enjoy living in peace and freedom today.

Let Go to Go Forward

I was thrilled to be invited back to partner once again with a US/Japanese joint venture steel mill that I helped start-up in the early 1990s.  As their union-management leadership team informed me, many of the “old timers” who started up the place with me are retiring, and they want to ensure that the very unique – and highly successful – team-based work culture lives on for the next generation.  We’re working together to re-energize the culture and mentor the new recruits to continue to be world-class into the next many decades.

During one of my recent meetings at the plant, a furnace operator was sharing his perspective on the root cause of some of the problems with the work culture, and why there is a gap between our initial vision and current reality.  His passion was palpable in how he talked about the people and the founding work culture ideals.  He talked about how one of the former plant managers had damaged the system, taking away resources, and trying to revert to a more autocratic, top-down managerial approach.

That plant manager has not worked in the steel mill for over five years!

What leapt to my mind was the old story about the two Buddhist monks:

A young monk and his older mentor were walking in the woods.  They came across a fast-running river.  A woman was standing on the side of the river, and could not cross it.  The old monk carried her across, set her down on the other side, and the two monks continued on their journey.

Later that night the young monk, who had been visibly disturbed since the encounter with the woman, exclaimed to his mentor, “we’re monks – so are forbidden to touch women – how could you do so?!” To which the old monk replied, “I let her go hours ago – but you are still carrying the weight of her on your back!”

Similarly, the furnace operator was carrying around the weight of the former plant manager.  What he was doing, fundamentally, was being burdened by a weight that had been shed years ago.  He was giving away his power to this other person, who had moved on long ago.

When we talk about moving through change – from “current to future state” – so often we point to some variant of Lewin’s classic model:

First we are to unfreeze – to let go of something from the past.  Often, the focus is on letting go of something that has been perceived as good, something valuable, something that has worked well for us.  We are advised to acknowledge and even grieve the loss.

However, taking charge of change is also often about “letting go” of the negative – of our lingering grievances and resentments.  Holding on to old wounds – and blaming others who inflicted those wounds – disempowers us to move forward proactively and positively.  At some point we need to “stop admiring the problem” and focus on solutions!

This is a lesson I’ve learned – and had to relearn – many times in my professional and personal life.  This incident caused me to ask myself these questions, which might benefit you as well – try them out and send me an email to let me know:

 What would be to your advantage to let go of to move forward?

 Who in your current life or past might you be giving away your power to?

 What are you holding on to that’s preventing positive progress – reflect on potentially limiting beliefs, limiting behaviors, limiting habits, outmoded ways of thinking or acting or relating to others that are no longer serving you – or those you were meant to serve?

Let go to get going!

How Does an Engaged Work Culture Thrive for 25 Years?

Twenty-five years ago the ground broke in a cornfield in Indiana for an innovative new type of steel mill.  Nippon Steel of Japan and Inland Steel of the U.S. partnered with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) to construct I/N Tek and I/N Kote.  The mill broke new ground both in its “technical” system, as well as in its “people” system.

After spending the recession years of the mid-80’s laboring in the Rustbelt and consulting with firms that were in bankruptcy, in danger of insolvency, or in general needing to “change or die,” the opportunity to work with a start-up company was a thrilling adventure early in my career.  As part of the renaissance of American steel, the company was going to be a radical departure from traditional, integrated mills of the past.  Instead it would be founded upon lean, continuous operations technologies.  To run the new type of “technical system,” union and management wanted a new type of “people system” – a new vision of partnership – a self-managed team approach.

During our design team meetings as the mill was built and commissioned, the dark joke was that “either I/N Tek and I/N Kote would be the shining light that would transform the autocratic, outmoded way ‘the old company’ [Inland Steel’s main integrated steel facility just a few miles away] would do business, or they will send troops to squelch the revolution in the cornfield.”  The design and implementation process was filled with excitement – and trepidation.

Last year the parent companies and union hosted a 25th Jubilee to celebrate their Silver Anniversary!  Twenty-five years of profit, productivity – and partnership.

Much has changed in over two decades.  The joint owners and the union has changed.  Nippon is now Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals.  Inland Steel is now part of ArcelorMittal.  The USWA is now the USW.   And the steel landscape has changed.  Foreign competition.  Domestic competition.  Customers changing expectations and preferences for lighter metals, new alloys.

Through it all, I/N Tek and I/N Kote has not just survived, but thrived.  Through management changes, union changes, employee changes, technology change, industry changes – and on and on.

Why?
Of course, the company is founded upon still-innovative technology and a winning business model.  And, a major success factor is the soundness of its founding work culture principals:  a TRULY team-based work culture, with people at all levels, in all functions, working together toward a common goal.

Are there problems?  Of course.
Opportunities? Yes indeed. And that’s why they contacted me a year ago, to ask me to come back and partner with them once again to “renew the work culture.”

These steelworkers have the savvy to realize that you can’t operate the equipment without periodically shutting down, taking it apart, lubing it up, and sometimes retrofitting it with new and improved parts.  Similarly, a work culture needs period maintenance and renewal.

We all can relate to that just thinking about our bodies – which are systems too!  Twenty-five years ago, I could work 16 hour days, travel to a new client with little sleep, and do it again.  Now, in my second half-century, I need exercise beyond running to catch flights, to eat right, and get a reasonable amount of sleep per night.  As the graphic shows, the longer we or any system last, the more energy we need to expend just to maintain “steady state”!



A company’s work culture is a living, evolving entity.  At least, it should be if you want to effectively meet the many challenges that your organization will no doubt face, regardless of your industry or business model or geography.

Change Intelligent leaders know they need to remain agile and continually adapt to stay relevant and prosper.  As we learned from Jim Collins and his team in How the Might Fall: And Why Some Companies Don’t Give In, companies that succeed into the future – while their peers which are highly successful in the short-term fail – is the combination of:

•    Constancy of purpose – focus on vision, mission, and values, and

•    Flexibility of process – evolving technologies, tactics, and techniques

Indeed, when I revisited I/N Tek and I/N Kote after two decades, the vision, mission, and values statements we drafted in the early ‘90s were still posted on the wall, in the office areas, operations pulpits, and maintenance rooms, throughout the mill – constancy of purpose.  And, now there were employees who were children of the founding team members, upgraded technologies, and new business practices – flexibility of process.

As a leader, do you pay attention to your organization’s work culture?  Work culture can seem an amorphous concept, beyond our intentional control.  And yet, while not completely in our control, we can have a positive influence on our company culture, regardless of our position, tenure, or age.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, as a leader committed to helping your organization be nimble, agile, and Change Intelligent into the future:

•    Does your organization have a vision, mission, or values statement?  If so, when is the last time you looked at it?  Mentioned it to your team?  Used it to guide decision-making and behaviors?

•    Do you periodically take a pulse of your culture?  What is the level of engagement?  Teamwork up, down, and across the organization?  Commitment to strategic goals and objectives?

•    In what areas can we do better – where does our lofty rhetoric not match the reality of what it’s like to work in our company on a day-to-day basis?  On what topics would we benefit from engaging in tough conversations to get ourselves back on track, and in line with our espoused beliefs?

Change Intelligent leaders look to the past to honor collective history, look to the future to progress toward new horizons, and foster collaborative cultures to empower people to partner on the journey together.

What Can Winston Churchill Teach Us about Leading Change?

While in London, I had the pleasure of visiting the Churchill Museum, an extremely well-preserved vista into the past, displaying the underground rooms where Churchill, his ministers, military advisors and staff led the effort to win the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War II.  It was amazing to see history frozen in time, and learn so many details of the life of this great man and the trials and tribulations of that great generation.

Leading change can so often feel like a war zone – devising plans and strategies, arming ourselves with tools and tactics, focusing on the mission and averting scope creep, engaging stakeholders both allies and enemies, overcoming resistance, striving for small wins during the many battles to win the war, avoiding land mines, juggling scarce resources, regrouping and redeploying, coping with stress and battle fatigue, negotiating terms and conditions – I could go on and on, the analogies are seemingly endless.

Visiting the museum caused me to ponder what we as change leaders can learn from Churchill and his stewardship of WWII.  Among many other talents, he was known for his wry wit and exception oratory prowess.  Here’s a sample relevant for all of us in the business of leading change:

  • “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Churchill said this in response to criticisms about the fact that he changed political parties.  Indeed, this quote is the essence of Change Intelligence:  to lead change, we must start with ourselves first.  This is one way that great leaders are both courageous and vulnerable – they reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and course correct – sometimes in very public ways – to ensure their behaviors match their values and goals, even when it’s not easy.
  • “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  This quote reinforces the fact that change can be a long and arduous journey.  While most of us will never have to endure bombing raids or food rationing, we all need to cope with the emotional tribulations of letting go of the old and grappling with the new, and our own and others’ feelings of loss, confusion, and fear.
  • “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”  In this quote Churchill was praising the Royal Air Force, giving thanks for their heroism and sacrifice while fighting the Battle of Britain, during which Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed the country relentlessly for months on end.  So often leading change can seem like a thankless job, and we can feel scarred and shell-shocked during the fight and for quite some time after it’s over.  Great change leaders acknowledge the hard work – both effort and outcomes – that helps us fight the good fight and prevail against what can seem like insurmountable odds.

One more footnote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister in 1940, when he was 65 years old, and remained active in British and global politics long after the war ended, retiring at age 81.  Throughout the war and beyond, he is said to have outworked his staff.  I like to keep that in mind every time I get an invitation to join AARP in the mail!  We’re never too old to make world-changing contributions, and we benefit from the wisdom of our elders.

Enjoy living in peace and freedom today.

When It Comes to Change, Seeing Is Believing!

I was recently reminded of the truth of the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and why it’s so relevant for us as change leaders. By nature, I’m a rather left-brained, analytical person – and with my doctoral-degree academic training, early in my career I was the queen of dry, fact-based, death-by-PowerPoint (or back then, overhead transparency) presentations!  Yet, even then I knew that when I learned, what was often most memorable to me was a simple graphic, or model, or a photo that depicted clearly and succinctly current state, future state, and what we needed to do to get from here to there.  Back in the day, we talked a lot about “paradigm shifts”, and what makes “shift happen”:  the combination of data + emotion.  So often, we overplay the data and downplay the emotion.

As John Kotter and Dan Cohen wrote so well in The Heart of Change, most leaders focus on prompting people to “think differently” – but that’s not how change really happens.  Instead, change occurs at the level of individual behavior change, which happens when people “feel differently.”  We not only have to engage the brain (Head), we have to connect with the emotions – appeal to Heart even more than the mind.  Many of us logical folks were trained to lead by employing the “analysis-think-change” model – when the real change dynamic relies on the “see-feel-change” cycle.

Impactful change leaders embrace this truism and capitalize on the fact that transformation takes place for emotional reasons – which is not “soft” but based on “hard science.”  We need to creatively and compellingly “show” not merely “tell” – through visual cues that can range from educational and entertaining videos to diorama-like display showcases to transforming physical space design.

A couple of my favorite examples conveyed by Kotter and Cohen were these powerful ones:

  • To spur a customer-focused cultural transformation, a company replaced the photographs of past CEOs that had lined the entrance hallway in the corporate office with pictures of customers’ stores;
  • To obtain buy-in from senior executives to champion a strategic sourcing initiative, the procurement manager piled the boardroom conference table with each of the 424 different gloves used in all the company’s many factories currently purchased from a wide variety of different vendors.

Why are pictures (or any visual images) worth a thousand words?  Because they convey vast amounts of complex information instantaneously.  Images make a compelling case, often (seemingly) effortlessly, eloquently, and unequivocally. Visual management, as the total quality management, six sigma, and lean professionals often point out, focuses attention on what’s important and tells an immediately comprehensible short and simple story. We as change leaders are really “sales people” – passionately advocating for a new and better future.

For innately left-brainers like me, incorporating visuals can help us connect with our right-brained colleagues, resulting in a holistic, whole brain approach.  We can reach people with a variety of informational needs and learning styles – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  

Images prompt interaction, not passive reception.  Visuals are dynamic, not static.  They cut through the clutter, grab attention, and incite interest.  Ask yourself – and perhaps a colleague:  what does the CQ image above “say” to you?  What do you “see”?  What does it make you “feel” or “think”?  What jumps out for you that may not be immediately obvious for others?  Such loosely structured, open dialogue, often produces new insights and innovative paths forward.    

What can you as a change leader do?  A recent client example portrays some of countless ways you can put images of CQ front and center to help your team imagine change intelligent needs and opportunities real-time when and where it counts.

A steel producer I’ve been consulting with has been the market leader in its niche for many years.  The CEO brought me on board to work with “leaders at all levels,” explaining that “I fear we’re becoming complacent.  We’re catching wind of new competitors with new technologies, raw materials, and product lines.  Our people are becoming resistant to new ideas.  I’m hearing comments like, ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ ‘it ain’t broke so don’t fix it,’ and ‘we’re on top of our game – they should be doing what we’re doing – why should we change?'”

During our early meetings we shared visual images and told actual stories (many experienced first-hand by team members themselves) about how some of those comments sounded and smelled a lot like the integrated steel mills of the past – who got their lunch eaten through decades of plant closings, restructurings, and downsizings of the American steel industry.  As quality guru W. Edwards Deming remarked, “it is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.”  Plant leadership “got” the message about the bottom-line business need to “change or die.”  Yet in many ways, “getting it” is easy – “sticking it” is the hard part.

We experimented with a variety of visual management mechanisms to ensure change intelligent conversations were taking place every day.  To share a few:   

  • Daily team huddles and monthly staff meeting agendas started with “CQ moments” immediately after “safety moments,” usually incorporating a catchy graphic or relevant video clip of some kind.  These ranged from “ripped from media headlines” national news stories to home-grown show-and-tell examples of a peer “soldiers in the trenches” role modeling out-of-the-box invention, such as a really great IPhone video made by the operations manager and his son at their local hardware store role playing an “aha moment” that resulted in a fix to a nagging maintenance problem in the plant.    
  • Decision-making sessions ended with “line-of-sight” communications plans that explicitly incorporated “heart, head and hands” messages- using logos for each and simple, easily memorable-to-talk-about images instead of words.  That is, specifics for the leaders on how to share agreements that motivated their people emotionally, engaged them intellectually, and equipped them behaviorally to want it, get it, and be able to execute in tangible, concrete ways.
  • Some leaders even wore the “CQ Triangle” depicting their Change Leader Style on their hard hats!  Others had their CQ Profile page from their CQ Assessment results posted on their office/cubicle/pulpit entrance ways.   

As Joe McCormack shares in the brilliant new book Brief, “people you deal with everyday are on the receiving end of over explained, underprepared, and complicated communication……We are transitioning from a text-based world to a visual one……Visuals attract attention and capture imagination…..giving individuals a simple and more powerful tool to wrestle with information and put order to chaos.”

If seeing is believing – what can you as a change leader do, today, where you are at, to help people see (and then feel, and ultimately act) differently?

Women’s Voices at Work

From Marissa Mayer’s high profile people-management decisions in her role as Yahoo’s CEO to Sheryl Sandberg’s provocative assertions in her  book Lean In, there continues to be a lot of debate about leadership and the sexes – and whether men and women lead differently. Although there’s some hype and “drama” surrounding this topic, it’s a critical one to explore, since it impacts our ability to drive critical changes in these chaotic times.

Consider three intriguing sets of research findings:

  1. As reported in the Harvard Business Review: “Many believe that bias against women lingers in the business world, particularly when it comes to evaluating their leadership ability…To our surprise, we found the opposite: As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured. There was one exception, however, and it was a big one: Women scored lower on ‘envisioning’—the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”
  2. In contrast, Dension Consulting: “the global leader in culture change and assessment, has found that women are rated higher on all leadership dimensions than their male counterparts.  However, men rate themselves stronger on “having a mission” and “adaptability” (traits associated with strategic leadership), while women rate themselves stronger on “involvement” and “consistency” (traits associated with people leadership and tactical execution).”
  3. Similarly, in this blog postI shared findings based on the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment, that men are significantly more likely to report acting as Visionary Change Leaders (focusing on long-term goals), and women as Coaches and Facilitators (focusing on people and implementing short-term objectives.

What can we make of these findings – and how do they impact our roles, behaviors and attitudes as leaders?  Both Denison’s and my research demonstrate that men and women perceive themselves differently as leaders – men focusing more on purpose, women on people and process.  In other words, men tend to focus on results, women on relationships that facilitate results.  And, at least according to the Harvard study, others perceive these differences as well – at least with respect to visionary leadership. Can these results partially explain the glass ceiling effect – that while women outnumber men in the workforce and at lower and middle management ranks, they are sorely absent from the upper echelons?

As Sheryl Sandberg observed during her career as the COO of Facebook and wrote in Lean In, of course there are organizational and societal barriers that women face – and yet, there may be important internal barriers that hinder us as well, which may be invisible even to us.  How we perceive ourselves – our mindset – impacts our behavior – our behavior impacts how others perceive us – and how others perceive us impacts our opportunities to move ahead and to make a difference.  This is true for all leaders, men and women.

These are critical issues to explore if we want expand the ability of our teams and organizations to get the best from our brightest.  When women’s voices are heard at the top levels, companies see bottom-line benefits spanning from profitability to retention.

Change Agility: Five Tips to Adapt in Challenging Environments

Are you being asked to adapt to changes in your industry or workplace, or expected to help others adapt?  Adapting to change doesn’t have to require eons of evolution, radical reorganization or taxing turnarounds.  For change leaders, a winning step is often something well within our control: that is, to adapt (or change) ourselves first.  Here are five simple steps to get you started, to develop and role model change agility and leadership:

  1. Change Your Story – Reframe resistance.Resistance in organizations is like the immune system in the body; it protects against harmful invaders from the outside. Just like pain in the body is a symptom something is wrong, so resistance is a sign to which managers should pay attention. The goal is not to eradicate it, but to allow it to surface, so it can be explored and honored.  To lead more effectively, learn to see resistance as your ally, not your enemy.
  2. Change Your Stance – Picture a triangle. So often, we view ourselves on one angle, others at another angle, and “the problem” on the third angle. In our minds, it feels like it’s us against the other people as well as the problem. That’s exhausting. Instead, re-envision yourself and the other people working together to solve the problem. Move from being and feeling and acting against others, or doing something to others, or even in spite of others, to working with and even for them.  If you can make this simple mindset shift, how you relate to others will almost immediately become palpably partnership-oriented to them.  
  3. Change Your Seat – What you see depends on where you sit.  Change looks very different at different levels of the organizational hierarchy. Those at the top are typically isolated. Those at the bottom are most resistant. Those in the middle are squeezed. Sit in others’ seats and appreciate their pressures. Adapt your approach and messages to the very different needs and concerns of these very different audiences.
  4. Change Your Style – We all know the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. To lead change effectively, follow the Platinum Rule:  Do unto others as THEY want to be done unto. Tell stories they can relate to. Share statistics relevant to them. Demonstrate what’s in it for all of us to work together in new ways.  
  5. Change Your Strategy – So often, what looks like resistance is really that people don’t get it, don’t want it, or they are unable to do it.  Engage the brain by explaining the “why” and “what” of the change — help the “head” understand your vision, mission, and goals. Paint a clear picture of the target and the end game. Inspire the “heart” to care about the change objectives by engaging with others, actively listening, dealing with fears and insecurities, and building trust.  Help the “hands” apply the change — provide tactics, training and tools, and eliminate barriers standing in people’s way.

The good news: None of these tips require leaders to change who they are.  They are all about shifts in mindsets and behaviors.  It’s about the flexibility to adapt our leadership approach to get us all where we need to go.

It’s amazing how when we change, others change.  It’s been said before — because it’s true: Be the change you wish to see in the world. That’s leadership.