How to Be an Agent for Change

25 Mar

This weekend I spoke about “leading change” as a panelist at the Silicon Valley Education Conference (www.siliconvalleyeducationconference.org) in Mountain View, California.  The conversation was so refreshingly honest and insightful, I thought I would share with you my takeaways.

If you want to be an agent for change–a leader of change–there are three things you can do:

  1. Lose yourself.  Make a commitment to yourself that you are not interested in what you deserve or what you are entitled to.  90% of the important advances in the world are accomplished by tired people.  Focusing on yourself–trying to be less tired, trying to have more time for yourself, trying to protect your own interests–will only make you unhappy in the end.  Forget yourself and decide that you will focus externally, knowing that in the end, working on “greater good” is what has the power to make people (including you) happy.
  2. Decide who you are.  There are three types of change agents:
    • Visionary:  Someone who can see with true clarity of vision what others cannot see, and who can motivate and inspire others to get there.  Nothing happens without this person.
    • Organizer:  Someone who may not have seen it on their own, but recognizes it when he/she sees it, and can bring extraordinary organizational skills to bear to make sure the vision becomes a reality.  Nothing happens without this person.
    • Doer:  Someone who rolls up their sleeves and dives in with unparalleled craftsmanship and pride.  Whatever their unique skillset, they apply it within the organizational framework to advance the mission with efficiency and excellence.  Nothing happens without this person.
    • None of these roles is more important than the other two.  They are all equally necessary to effect change.  The most important thing is to recognize which of these describes who you are and then commit to play that role the very best you can.  Don’t get caught up in titles–figure out which of the three roles you were made to play, and then evaluate opportunities to play that role.
  3. Choose your cause.  You must actively look for your cause–it will not come looking for you.  Don’t wait for someone to give you “permission” to create change.  By its very definition, opportunity to effect change will not emerge out of the status quo, and you will not find it in your current job description.  Being a change agent doesn’t require a title or a certain job anyway.  You can make positive change where and when you decide to.  Look for the cause you care about, identify the role that you can do well, make sure the people filling the other roles are as passionate and capable as you , and then JUST DO IT!

Of course, whenever you are involved in change, the highs are high and the lows are low.  When you are at your lowest, remember point #1 above.  It is not about you.  You are working toward a higher good.  If this venture doesn’t work out, the next one will.  The less you can focus on yourself and the more you can focus on the change you are making for good, the easier it will be to get through the low times.  When you are able to stay focused and determined despite the odds, you will be surprised how often things break your way.  Things that seemed impossible suddenly become possible, and pieces that didn’t fit before suddenly find a solution.  This does not happen when you give up or get discouraged or distracted, but it happens a surprising percentage of the time when you stay focused.

I really enjoyed my co-panelists, Josh Edwards (Amazon) and Jessica Johnson (RBL Group) and the moderator, Maggie Goloboy (McKinsey).  Thank you!

-db

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