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What Kind of Political Change Leader Are You?

In any organization and in any social institution, you need to have some degree of political savvy to move your agenda. The reality is the best of organizations–no matter how big or small–is made up of turf and micropolitics. If you want to move your agenda, some degree of political competence is necessary. At the core of this is self-awareness. As a change leader, as an individual who is trying to move an agenda, nothing is more important than an understanding of your implicit and often subtle political mindset. How you approach change, what your inclinations are about the rate of change (slow versus rapid), what your ideas are concerning how encompassing or specific the change should be–all compose your political mindset.

The problem is that your political change mindset is often expressed by you but not owned by you. You may be unaware of your inherent biases on how change should be approached. The first thing a self-aware political change leader does is begin to understand what his or her implicit mindset is. As I argued in The Agenda Mover, there are four political change mindsets. When you are moving an agenda, the first thing you need to figure out is what kind of mindset you are using to approach this change challenge.

Are You a Traditionalist Political Change Leader?

A traditionalist political change leader is not against change, but prefers that any change initiative be considered carefully, reflecting the organization’s history. If an organization is going off track–sales are sluggish, staff are unhappy, innovation is lagging–the traditionalist will try to find the solution in “going back to basics” and reviving once-abandoned routines to help the organization weather a difficult period.

Traditionalists prefer making changes at the edges, slowly and incrementally, rather than tossing the whole thing and starting from scratch. They prefer the slow approach to change–to get it right the first time–and find it difficult dealing with situations on the fly. There will be change with a traditionalist at the helm. However, it will be slow, incremental, measured, and conducted within the frame of the organization’s history.

A traditionalist political change leader is most comfortable making tinkering changes here and there, and any change that a traditionalist makes is thoughtful and well-planned. 

Are You an Adjuster Political Change Leader?

The adjuster political change leader shares some characteristics with the traditionalist leader. They prefer making incremental changes, but they are far more comfortable when improvising solutions. The adjuster change leader lives in the here-and-now. What happened yesterday is so far in the distant past that it might as well have happened a hundred years ago. Adjusters live in the moment and have a gift for continually re-assimilating themselves into the changing environment. The question for the adjuster is timing. When must a move be made? When should we expand? When should we consolidate?

Adjusters are practical. Their strength is reacting to changing circumstances, and timing the next move. Often the adjuster will not have a particular goal in mind, and find that improvised changes are easier to make (even if the changes have a higher degree of risk).

An adjuster political change leader does not go in for big change, but is fine with tweaking and making adjustments as they go along. Adjusters aren’t tied up with long-term planning, but prefer to react when the situation demands it.

Are You a Developer Political Change Leader?

The developer political change leader would rather see overhauling changes, but they don’t want to see a dramatic transformation overnight. They want change–but through careful planning and using thoughtful caution. Developers are ground visionaries–while their goals have the potential for far-reaching consequences, they prefer to plod toward their goal.

The developer political change leader wants to see deep, transformative change, but within the context of careful planning. They don’t want to leave anything to chance, but they want to be prepared for all contingencies.

Are You a Revolutionary Political Change Leader?

Revolutionary political change leaders are not content with puny changes. They seek transformational change that will radically and fundamentally change the organization. Revolutionaries have an idea of what they want to achieve, but they don’t have a step-by-step plan. A plan would get in the way of their agility. They are risk takers.

Revolutionaries thrive on new ideas and new twists on old ideas. Always looking to push the envelope, revolutionaries are likely to focus on new technologies, emerging markets, and up-to-the-minute research as the impetus for change.

The revolutionary political change leader wants big change and wants to engage in radical action to do it. They can’t be bothered with the nitty-gritty details, but they barge forward and do it.

Know When to Be Which

So, the answer to the question “What kind of political change leader are you?” is: “none of the above” and “all of the above”!

Politically competent change leaders change their mindset depending on the issue at hand. For some issues, a leader may be a traditionalist, and for others, the leader may be a revolutionary, and so forth. Political change leaders are agile–they are able to project different styles depending on the agenda they are backing. The most vulnerable change leaders are the ones who are consistent in their political mindset.

It’s not who you are but which mindset you choose to bring to a particular agenda. Competent change leaders adjust their mindset depending on their agenda.


Leading Teams: It’s a Balancing Act

Tightrope performers at 4-H Club fair, Cimarron, Kansas

In engaging your team the first question you must ask yourself is what you want your team to accomplish.  Sometimes making a simple academic distinction helps to focus this issue.  Do you want your team to be primarily concerned with implementation? Or, do you want your team to be creative and innovative?

The challenge is to find the balance point. If you lead your team too tightly, you run the risk of creating insularity and inflexibility. If you lead your team too loosely, the team can fall into the trap of perpetual creativity, but accomplish nothing.  Your objective as the team leader is not to swing too hard at either extreme.



Do You Read Weak Signals? Sometimes It’s Not a Scream; It’s a Whisper

We live in a world of signals. There are innumerable bits of information that float around us every day. We see and hear things that are relayed via media—the internet, television, books, magazines, trade journals and even radio. We pick up snatches of conversation in the check-out line or on the street or in the hallway. We receive emails and scan message boards. Some information that enters our orbit has more immediate value, and some information may not be relevant now, but may have important implications in the future. This type of information is indicative of a weak signal—that something is happening. Entrepreneurs take the time to speculate and engage in deeper analysis of that “something” before deciding to act (or not).

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By CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsBy CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Don’t Process Things to Death

Most meetings in organizational life follow a script. Everyone plays their part and says their lines. Someone–the department head, VP, or dean–calls a meeting. His immediate direct report feels that if too many issues are raised, nothing will get done. The administrative director is willing to have the meeting, but wants to specify parameters, set a time limit, and start with the agenda in place. The others invited to the meeting understand the broad agenda, but they have their own agendas and issues. Unfortunately, the meeting chair is too facilitative. After forty minutes, it becomes clear that the agenda has long since crashed and burned. Everyone wants to put their issues on the table, and the discussion degenerates into several smaller, simultaneous conversations. The meeting chair tries to wrest back control, but doesn’t want to be abrupt; others try to help him focus the discussion, to no avail. After two hours, the meeting ends with an agreement to meet again.

Dialogue is celebrated today. As corporations move further away from traditional, directive leadership, innovation team leaders and organization members find themselves spending a lot of time in some kind of dialogue–processing ideas, brainstorming, and engaging in continuous open discussion. Virtual and real meetings are the modus operandi of organizational life. Certainly the internet, webinars, and video conferencing haven’t diminished the need for meetings, but have increased it.

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Great Leaders Have Agenda Moving Skills

The major leadership challenge is to lead innovation and change. In that sense, leaders need to move ideas through the maze of the organization. In today’s organizations, with multiple businesses, numerous teams, and changing expectations, leaders need to figure out how they can overcome resistance and get support for their ideas. Indeed, a good idea is not enough. Without the capacity to get others behind your agenda, you’re not really leading. The problem is that super-heroic characteristics, grand personality, and shining charisma are not going to drive ideas through the organization. Successful leaders are agenda movers who engage in the micro-political skills of execution to get people on their side and keep them there.

Agenda movers know that their good idea, no matter how brilliant, is not enough and they need to actively win others to their side. To accomplish this, they develop four key competencies: to anticipate where others are coming from, to mobilize others around their ideas, get the buy-in, and finally to go the sustain momentum and go the distance to get things done.

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