I was working with a team not too long ago and, during a discussion on a particular organizational change, one of the team members stated, “We need someone at the top to own this and drive it.”
While the words may differ from person to person, it’s pretty common to hear individuals in an organization describe change as “something someone else with more authority needs to make happen”. What’s interesting is that oftentimes, people believe the person above them should be responsible for change — but when you ask the person above them, they think the person above them should be responsible, and so on and so on. If we follow that logic, ultimately there is one individual at the top of the organization who can make change happen. If that person is responsible for every change, improvement, shift, or solution in the business, the business is in dire trouble.
There is no question that change can happen from the top. But it can also happen from the middle and even the bottom. It can happen on individual teams, in a department, in a function, or it can begin with one person in a cubicle who takes the initiative to do something differently.
Have you ever watched someone do something hard or challenging, and then felt compelled to change something about yourself to address the same challenge? Have you ever observed someone on a team put a process in place that others adopted because it worked so well? Or been a part of a team where the leader inspired others or caused them to push beyond what they perceived as personal limitations? What if more people in your business were causing change and fewer people were waiting for it?
Change happens when someone decides to contribute, in a committed way, to improving something. That’s all it takes and the “someone” doesn’t have to be the CEO.
When we begin to ask ourselves different questions, we start the process of finding different solutions. What if everyone in an organization asked themselves the question, “How can I make change happen or contribute to a change that would make our business or team better?” What if every morning each person wrote down three things that would answer that question? The result would be individuals are actually making positive change a habit, not just an intention or even worse, something that someone else does because they have a different title.
As leaders, part of our job is leading change. Nothing gets better without it. No better future can be achieved by waiting for it. If we believe change is a function of hierarchical power, rather than individual initiative, we lose our ability to cause it or support it unless we are the CEO.
Our ability to lead change begins with the understanding that it can happen anywhere. Our job is to consistently ask the questions that plant seeds for change and then support the involvement of others as they shape it and make it better.
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