Summer Book Review #19: Leading Change

I laughed to myself a bit when I saw the troupe.  Think of it.  Cape Cod African Dance & Drum cavorting down the middle of the road amidst the July 4th Parade,  Orleans, MA.

Photo by: Celeste EvansPhoto by Celeste Evans for WCAI, Cape Cod & Islands NPR

Think small town USA.   Bunting.  Red, white and blue.  A perfect harmony?   Perhaps.  The senior’s jazz band preceded the group, perched atop a flat-bed truck while they strummed dixieland.

Novofemina’s summer reading project is supposed to do two things; to screen books that might be useful for those of us in transition; and to help me understand the transition ‘body of knowledge’ that exists out there in the ether.  Truthfully I’ve found most transition books to be lousy…so I’m looking beyond the genre for inspiration and maybe some answers this summer.

This week I sought truth in John Kotter’s Leading Change.  I reasoned that a book about massive transformational change in the business world might have a lesson or two for those of us navigating change beyond P&Ls.  I was only partly right.

The book focuses on an eight stage process (Leading, pg  21) required to successfully change a large corporation’s culture, organization and systems processes.    Kotter reasons that his insights hail from dozens of failed change efforts.   While this is all well and good, the majority of the book is worthless for personal or even career transition.  That said there were a few elements I found provocative.

  • Why do you need a vision?  Readers may recall my disdain for long-term planning early on in my transition (Novofemina’s An Ode to Networking).  I was never a planner.  I always hated the question, ‘what do you want to be doing five years out?’  Are you kidding?   Kotter says of vision, “it simplifies 100’s or 1,000’s of more detailed decisions.”   (Leading, pg  68)   Kotter’s words rang true for me.  He states, “with clarity of direction, the inability to make decisions can disappear.”  (Leading, pg  69)  I finally sat down to write a few sentences about my dreams in late January ’12, well into my transition.  Kotter’s right.  While imperfect my vision statement has simplified 100’s of other detailed, albeit career-related, decisions since.  Do you have a vision?  Even an imperfect one?  BTW, you can change it anytime (thanks Karen from Voices of Transition)!
  • Adopting the habits of a life long learner.  Kotter is at his best when outlining his opinion of the mental habits (his words) of a life long learner.   Risk taking.  Self-reflection.  Openness to new ideas.  He believes that “the very best lifelong learners have high standards, ambitious goals, and a real sense of a mission in their lives… (This) helps them endure the short-term pain associated with growth (and change).”  (Leading, pg  183+)  Would you characterize yourself as a lifelong learner?  Kotter believes these characteristics ready a person for the challenges of transformation.  From my humble perspective…so too, transition.

Tara Murphy has a vision.  It is to bring the happiness, health and rejuvenation of African Dance the community of Cape Cod.   Her energy and joyfulness gave me pause.   Her vision is unique, one that is all her own.

Cape Cod African Dance’s parade cameo featured Tara along with several other students.  One woman caught my eye.  She was at least 70.   She scuffed along the road, missing the graceful prance that the other members had mastered.  She was clearly learning.  Regardless, she participated.  Kente cloth draped across her frame. Her hand instruments beat out a rhythm.   As she danced past me I wondered about her participation.  Mostly I wanted to shout ‘hooray’: hooray for her courage; hooray for her risk taking; and hooray for those of us so fortunate to experience the happiness created by this little troupe on a sweltering day in July.

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