3 attributes of successful change leaders

Jeff Cole

Don't look at the dogs - work the lock!

Once you have the motivation, blueprints, and all the right tools, nothing will stop you from successfully making changes. This month columnist Jeff Cole explores the three fundamentals to executing change on a personal and professional level.

Ever take a high-speed driving class? They instruct you that if you go into a skid you need to look where you want to go, not where you are headed. Sound advice but kind of hard to follow when that wall is approaching at 100+ mph!

Don't let Fido distract you from what's important.

As it turns out, focusing on where you want to go is a pretty important element of any change. If you are in great physical pain, your focus becomes immediate and singular – relieve the pain.

The reason many people don’t execute changes in their personal life is fairly simple – they lack the focus and haven’t attached enough pain to their status quo to prompt them to execute fully their change plan.

Trying to make change happen, but finding it difficult? Here are three attributes that make for successful change – whether in your personal or professional lives:

Attribute 1 - Focus:

About 32 years ago, American TV viewers were introduced to Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. In the series opener, Magnum has broken into the estate to steal the iconic Ferrari 308. As he is picking the lock, the two attack dogs sprint toward him. He reminds himself "Don’t look at the dogs – work the lock".

Rarely do we get the luxury of working on our changes in a vacuum. There are almost always various forms of "attack dogs" nipping at our heels and vying for our attention. Information overload, multi-tasking, apps, tweets, calls, and emails are whirling about the typical worker like a snow globe. It’s no wonder makers of energy drinks and triple-espressos are raking in record profits – it seems like many people need them just to stay afloat.

However, if you want to make any serious change – either personally or professionally, there must be a clear vision and focus of where you are headed. It has to cut through that fog of distractions and become a superordinate goal. For many, this will not occur naturally, but you can help make it happen. Once you consciously attach enough pain to the status quo so that it is absolutely no longer acceptable and you cannot live with it, then you will move toward your vision. As long as the pain of getting off the couch or setting up a meeting is greater than the pain of continuing to do things the old way – you will not have the focus and drive necessary to change.


Attribute 2: Using the Right Tools:

If I asked you to nail two pieces of wood together, you absolutely could do it with a wrench if you were persistent enough. A hammer may have been a much better choice. Success leaves clues – and lots of them. Hundreds of self-help authors from Napoleon Hill to Oprah have made fortunes studying successful people and distilling out their secret formulas.

In business we call this benchmarking or finding "best practices". Who else has successfully done what you hope to accomplish? Find them and study what they did. If nobody has done exactly what you are trying to do, find someone who has done conceptually the same thing. For example, in the 1980’s when FedEx wanted to make faster deliveries, they studied Domino’s Pizza, who at the time advertised "30 Minutes or Free". Both were trying to get packages from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. If you can’t find them in person, try finding good mentors or coaches or books. You don’t know what you don’t know. For all you know, your "hammer" is sitting at the library on page 52 of the next business book you grab! Get curious and expand your current change tool box.

Attribute 3: Flexible Plans:

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Once you have a strong vision and focus along with the necessary tools to help you get there, we need a plan. Your entire journey needs to be broken into smaller, manageable chunks that feel realistic to address. Project manager-types call this a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

Map out the journey, build key actions into your daily and weekly schedule, and importantly, institute governance. An oversight of the progress to plan is crucial to keeping momentum up in the long term. Try to figure out ways to measure your progress and celebrate success along the way.

Most importantly, remember this is real life, not a text book. Roadblocks and annoyances will emerge from left field to upset your plans. Know that in advance, try to anticipate what those will be, and have alternate plans in place for when it happens. Flexibility is key to succeeding in a dynamic and uncertain environment.

Once you have the motivation, blueprints, and all the right tools, nothing will stop you!