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Risk Seekers As Change Insurgents

Industries once based their leadership models on the centuries-old notion of organizations as machines, and considered the best-managed workplaces those that were orderly and unchanging. Implementing change required re-engineering the machine, or system. In that environment, the most revered managers were those who held everything under control.

Those theories are misplaced in today's workplace and must be abandoned. Why? Simply put, it's impossible to compete by operating a machine that works just like every other company’s machine. Too many organizations make the products you manufacture, provide the services you offer, or meet the social needs you fill. Today, business involves constant change and the best leaders are those who can drive change fastest.

Writing in the October 2000 edition of Fast Company, former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich proclaimed, "Companies that can't change the way that they think about change won't be able to change the way that they compete."

According to Reich, "In a time of constant change, one thing hasn't changed: Organizations are still resistant to change. The change agent of the old economy worked in an environment where incremental change was all that was needed--and all that was tolerated." Reich says that being a change agent is insufficient. "Change today demands the change insurgent."

Webster defines insurgent as: Rising in opposition to civil or political authority, or against an established government; insubordinate; rebellious. Is that kind of behavior encouraged in your organization?

To be effective today, values-based leaders must take risks and one of those risks might involve driving change from below. It can mean rising up against change resisters and risking being labeled an insurgent. Reich offers encouragement. "Many change agents used to depend on title, authority, or official sanction to undertake their change programs. Change insurgency doesn't depend on formal rank; it depends on great ideas, powerful visions, and daring examples. There's no way that the people at the top can know enough about technology, markets, or the potential of people in and around the organization to be the major instigators of change."

Reich warns that in pushing for change from below, change insurgents "are playing a high-risk, high-reward game. If they succeed, the company thrives, and they earn both personal credit and the chance to stay in the game. If they fail, the company may falter, and they risk losing personal standing."

Is being a change insurgent worth the risk? Yes, if the changes you advocate are important to the values of your organization. Remember, your employees joined your organization because they saw a connection between their personal values and the stated values of the company. Those common values provide them with the meaning and connection they need in their jobs. Pushing for changes that uphold the organization's values demonstrates your credibility.

To drive change, you must be a risk seeker. You must be brave and innovative, try new approaches, and chance failure. In other words, you must Accept Challenges and Take Risks.
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