Be a Force for Change

violent leadership

Violent Leadership: Be a Force For Change

 

To achieve a goal, you need planning, action, risk and disruption. In Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, Wesley Middleton argues that leaders should be a force for change.

Wesley Middleton is the author of Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, co-founder and managing partner of Middleton Raines + Zapata LLP, a tax and accounting services firm.

I recently spoke to Wesley about his book.

 

“The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Wesley, I’ve studied every type of leadership you can imagine. I’ve attended every seminar and read literally thousands of books. But this is a first. Violent leadership. Tell us more about this and why and how you started writing about it.

As I grew in my business, I learned that my ideas and thoughts weren’t “normal” for my profession. At the time, I didn’t recognize it. I believed that everything I was saying and doing was what everyone thought. It was when I started hearing “no” a lot and other professionals began questioning my ideas that I realized I was not thinking like everyone else. Because of that I began to write my experiences in short blog fashion and began to capture my thoughts and ideas on paper. After writing several articles and blogs, I realized I had a theme that was rooted in my faith. I lived by Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 (KJV) reads, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.” The Modern English version says, “The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force.” I was living by those incredible words: violence as force and as leadership.

Due to the obvious nature of the word violent, I kept it to myself. The phrase “Violent Leadership” is not something you would expect to see in the business world, yet it was what I lived by. The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force. It does not refer to fighting, anger, or brutality. It is a positive and energetic pursuit of purpose and success. I decided to tell the world.

violent leadership book coverViolent Leadership has been my style of leadership from day one. It has evolved and grown, been tempered and threatened with termination, but it is still at the core of my belief that goals and success do not just happen. Achievement takes planning, action, risk, and disruption—it takes Violent Leadership.

 

 

“Be the thermostat that sets the tone and culture in your firm.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Have a Willingness to Fail

Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders

Tales from a Reluctant CEO

Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman started a business and grew it to $35 million through trial and error and constant change. In her new book, Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO, Maxine shares lessons that can benefit all of us starting something new. She shares how they overcame obstacle after obstacle to succeed. I recently spoke with her about the lessons she shares in her new book.

 

When should a start-up start thinking about culture?

Culture is not really something that you think about when you first start a business. You might say, we want to be casual or formal, or we want to maintain an air of professionalism, but short of being doctrinaire, you can’t really control what organizational culture will become.  More than anything, culture evolves from the personalities of the founders. I happen to be very chatty and like to ask a lot of questions.  Some employees see that as friendly; others see it as intrusive.  When I push people to “think smart” and try to do things in better and more creative ways, some people see me as demanding and judgmental, others feel that I am encouraging and stimulating. In both cases, it is the employee who identifies culture based on how they interpret what is going on.

Culture is one of those things that exists in the eye of the beholder.  An employee, an outside consultant or a business colleague takes a step back and sees the unspoken rules and nuances of the organization.  Sometimes people are only aware of the organizational culture when they are asked what they like or don’t like about their jobs. When we asked people who were joining the organization what they were looking for in their selection of a job, we got a glimpse into the kind of culture in which they would feel most comfortable.  And while many said they were looking for an environment in which their opinions were valued and respected, others wanted a cultural milieu in which the boss would tell them what to do and they would have clear guidelines for performance.

Over the years, as Community Connections grew in size and diversified in its programs, culture changed. You could feel the difference. A business with three employees can’t help but be informal and casual.  But as we grew and increased our size to over 400 employees, it became impossible not to have some hierarchical structure. You can remember the names of three people, but when the size gets big, and leaders are rushing from one meeting to the next, it’s hard to be as friendly as you’d like to be.

 

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” –Thomas Wolfe

 

You wrote fairy tales for each chapter. That’s unusual in a business book. Why did you decide to do that?

How to Forge Resilient Relationships in the Heat of Change

breakthrough

From Breakdown to Breakthrough 

Business leaders often focus on profits and metrics, living in spreadsheets and analytics. But what drives these results is people and relationships. So often it’s the resilient relationships, those that are forged in uncertain and difficult times that make the difference.

Author Michael Papanek takes three decades of experience with clients ranging from Apple to Google and shares it in his new book, From Breakdown to Breakthrough: Forging Resilient Relationships in the Heat of Change. His framework helps leaders develop the confidence to take these relationships to the next level. I recently asked him about his work.

 

“Resilience is a social phenomenon based on relationships, not an individual leadership attribute.” -Michael Papanek

 

Build Strong Relationships

What are the elements of a strong relationship?

A strong business relationship will have a number of attributes that set that relationship apart from others.  First, it must provide value to both parties, and it is “generative,” meaning the value together is more than any one person could create on their own: so that 1 + 1 = 3.  Strong relationships also create multiple tracks of value that would be hard to replace if the relationship ended.

One example of this is from the entertainment world, where the band the Grateful Dead was famous for their long relationship with their very loyal fans (which continues today, long after the passing of their leader Jerry Garcia).  In addition to music, the band created value in other key ways for the fans, such as supporting a community of fans (the “Dead Heads”) as well as creating an ‘outside the concert’ experience, and even income for some fans (by selling items at the shows).

Finally, a strong relationship contributes to key strategies or needs of each party.  Relationships that do not create value this way may be categorized as superficial and easily ended. If you are ever not sure if the business relationship is really strong, that is the time to discuss it. Do not wait until you are surprised by a change.

 

“Strong relationships create multiple tracks of value that would be hard to replace if the relationship ended.” -Michael Papanek

 

How often do our relationships hit that sweet spot between strong, flexible and fair?

Your Playbook to Digital Transformation

Digital Business Transformation concept with arrow of compass (3

Reach for the Future

Nearly every business is impacted by digital transformation.

The key question for leaders is how to overcome the pull of the past to reach for the digital future. The authors of Digital@Scale: The Playbook You Need to Transform Your Company have developed a playbook based on years of McKinsey experience and research.

I recently spoke to author Anand Swaminathan, Senior Partner in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, about the book and his work in the area of digital transformation.

 

“Change is the end result of all true learning.” -Leo Buscaglia

 

3 Barriers to Change 

What do leaders need to know about identifying the barriers to change?

In our experience, executives face a fundamental conflict: Change requires a sense of urgency while highly-efficient organizations tend to have high levels of inertia. When business is going well, managers and employees generally only pay lip service to change requirements. Knowing that, there are three barriers we’ve identified:

  1. The good is the enemy of the better: Efficient, currently successful organizations often slow down the necessary change: Why cannibalize what is successful today? Why destroy efficiency gains of a ‘well-oiled machine’?
  2. Watch out for your top team: Ironically, today’s most successful managers might be the ones slowing down your transformation efforts since they have the most to lose. Transformation needs to start with the person at the top, and it’s often those who have grown accustomed to success that find it most difficult to change course.
  3. Your DNA takes time to change: Don’t underestimate the time and effort required to change deep-rooted mindsets and ways of working. Your legacy business exerts a natural gravitational pull that will stop all meaningful change unless you’re persistent and change at enough scale to break through

 

“Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.” -Richard Rohr

 

What is the role of the CEO when it comes to digital transformation?

The successful digital transformations we see out there have one common denominator: the CEO spearheading and promoting the digital transformation. They are making it front and center of their personal agenda. Only if change is demonstrated and exemplified by the top management will the necessary changes to structures, processes, management instruments, as well as the establishment of new skills and new IT systems, be successful. That can mean using new technologies, challenging existing ways of doing business, and making the bold decisions necessary to change the trajectory of the business.

 

Assess Your Readiness

How can management assess the current strategy of the company and its readiness for digital transformation?Digital@Scale book cover

That’s two questions. The first is understanding your strategy, and that requires looking at sources of value – where they’re created in your business and in your sector. Most important, you need to look at where sources of value are being created outside of your sector – that’s where some of the biggest changes (and challenges) might be happening.

Then you need to look at where you are today and what needs to change. There are lots of assessments and diagnostics out there, but you need to take a cold-eyed view of where you are as a digital business and what needs to be in place to drive value at scale. As an example, we have developed a comprehensive benchmark to derive a company’s Digital Quotient (DQTM), road-tested with several hundred organizations across the globe. It helps leadership to take stock compared to best practices across sectors and within its own industry.

In addition to the benchmark, some questions that management should start with to determine the urgency and their organization’s readiness for change include:

  • Are we assessing whether we can use our strengths to penetrate completely new industries within the current rules?
  • Are we actively creating an ecosystem of partners, customers and suppliers that will last into the digital world?
  • Have we defined a feasible timescale and meaningful KPIs to reliably measure success or failure?

 

“Transformation literally means going beyond your form.” -Wayne Dyer

 

Break the Silos

5 Roles of Great Change Leaders

change management

Become a Great Change Leader

One of the most important skills of a leader is managing and accelerating change. What makes change stick or fail is a fascinating topic, one that most new leaders struggle to understand. Mastering the art of change is a challenge and yet one that is well worth the investment. Because all great leaders are change agents.

Kendall Lyman and Tony C. Daloisio studied change for the last decade and have packed their key takeaways and learnings into their new book, Change the Way You Change! They outline the five roles of great change leaders. If you want to accelerate your leadership and improve your results, this book is a blueprint on how to orchestrate your change efforts.

 

“The only constant is change.” –Heraclitus

 

5 Roles of A Change Leader

In your book, you talk about five roles for change leaders. Is one more commonly a problem for a leader than others?

This is a question leaders ask us a lot, probably because they are so busy running the business that it’s hard to think about improving their leadership. We have found that each role of leadership has its unique challenge. For example, the FOCUS role requires a leader to get everyone on the same page and pull in the same direction. And the ALIGN role requires leaders to ensure that all of the processes, structure, and systems are aligned to the direction of the organization—a daunting task to say the least. But the role of leadership which is probably the hardest, takes the most time, opens up the organization for pushback, and has the most potential if done effectively is the ENGAGE role. Most leaders who put a lot of energy and money into the diagnosis and design of a new organizational solution are so excited to implement the new idea that they take very little time to syndicate that direction with key stakeholders either during design or before execution. True engagement done well holds the key to open the minds, hearts, and hands of employees required to implement by helping them change and adapt to make the new solution a reality.

 

“The world fears a new experience more than it fears anything.” –D.H. Lawrence

 

How is your approach to change different from others?

In all the books we read, the authors (and many change practitioners) argue that change starts one way or another. Some say that change starts with individuals. Others claim that individuals can’t really change until the organization does. But after helping lead transformations for years, we asked ourselves, “How does change really happen? Does change happen from the inside-out or from the outside-in?” In other words, is the most effective way to change an organization accomplished by helping individuals change so they, in turn, can change their teams and the organization (inside out)? Or is the best approach to improve the organizational elements of strategy, processes, and structure, and then expect teams and individual behavior to align with the changes to deliver better results (outside-in)? And we asked, “Does it have to be either/or?” After many years of considering this question and approaching change using one approach or the other, we have found that the answer is “no.” Instead, for change to be sustainable, it requires both an inside-out and an outside-in approach. To change a team or business, a leader must change both the thoughts and beliefs and the structure and systems. And to get it to stick, all levels of the organization (individual, team, and organization) must be focused, aligned, and engaged on the same thing—and that takes leadership!

 

“Nothing is so dear as what you’re about to leave.” –Jessamyn West

 

How the Best Leaders Initiate Change