Not long ago I met with someone that was struggling because new team members were speaking up and contributing at a higher level than he was comfortable with. He had a bigger title, more experience, and a deeper understanding of the organization’s history. He trusts the detailed work that the founders of that organization did to set it up and feels like is his it responsibility to ensure that their guidelines are followed. The new team members either don’t know or don’t fully understand that history, but they have strong skills, great experience, a huge desire to serve and are unafraid to challenge the status quo.
It was good for me to hear this man’s perspective, as I am usually on the other side of that experience –Deeply believing that:
At one point in my career, a functional leader asked me why I had to challenge everything. (Which was hard for me to process, because I’d intentionally joined that organization because of the way they empowered people at all levels.) Fortunately, we were at a corporate event, where we were being encouraged to think and to challenge anything that was limiting our customers, our employees, our results and our future. …Two hours later, that courageous leader followed back up to tell me that I was doing exactly what I’d been hired to do and to keep doing it.
The gift of a change agent is that they see what is and WHAT COULD BE and they want to help you get there.
The challenge of a change agent is that they can’t turn off their ability to see WHAT COULD BE. …And often their passion and drive to make things better for their customers, their employees, their organizations, their communities, their nations and our world – causes people in power to feel irritated or threatened. (Which is actually kind of funny – because those same powerful people will later express frustration when their employees and citizens won’t take more ownership!)
The truth is that change agents – even in empowered environments often struggle to learn:
- When to share a risk and an opportunity
- How to present it in a way that would be short and effective – especially with people who spoke and thought differently
- How to demonstrate respect for someone else’s experience and/or position while sharing urgency
- When to wait for them to do something and when to follow up
- Who else to involve and when to involve them
Even the most effective change agents of our time, admit that leading change is not an exact science, and no matter how hard you try you will make mistakes and you will criticized. …In Nelson Mandela’s book he shared this:
“…I moved in circles, where common sense and practical experience were more important than high academic qualifications. Even as I was receiving my degree, I realized that hardly anything I had learned at university seemed relevant in my new environment… No one had ever suggested to me how to go about removing the evils of racial prejudice, and I had to learn by trial and error.
…One can always be correct about a political action one is reading about in the next day’s newspaper, but when you are in the center of a heated political fight, you are given little time for reflection.”
In other words… Change agents will never be irritant free! They are trying to balance the things that take time – like the need to learn the politics of an organization and the personalities and learning styles of each key stakeholder; with the things that can’t wait – like removing anything that is causing harm to people or the organization they serve.
If you area titled leader that is not intentionally a part of the problem, but still find yourself being irritated by a change agent – I encourage you to seek them out and seek first to understand. Learn what they see, learn why they are so passionate, and learn how they seek to improve the situation you are in.
Then consider what would happen if their idea was implemented. What if…
- You increased your revenue____ %?
- You decreased your expenses ____%?
- You removed a significant risk for your organization?
- You made it easier for your customers to do business with you?
- You made it easier for your employees to focus on their jobs?
- People with disabilities had easier access to your building?
- You could remove multiple barriers for employment and increase the independence of many people in your community?
- You could build a critical bridge of communication between groups of people in your city?
- They have the solution you’ve been looking for?
Then share the history you know, the concerns you have and work together to create uncommon solutions.
If you are a change agent with a fire in your belly that wants to be more effective – or a titled leader that is trying to figure out how to empower your people at a higher-level check out our free download here.