Welcome to Part 5 of Don St. Clair and I’s discussion of leadership.

Rick S.: So we’ve discussed innovation. Again, I like your plan on this is that it’s still part of the culture, right?

Don. St. Clair: Absolutely.

Rick S.: It’s communication. It’s feedback. It’s a safe environment and when you start to accumulate ideas and you put the dots together, we now have innovation and guess what. We have ideas for the future. Part of leadership was future based. There’s a key element that I know you talk a lot about, which is change. Innovation requires change and in an organization, the bigger it is, the harder it is, usually, to change. Tell me a little bit more about strategies of … because we all have to change. You have to. How do you do it effectively though and how in your training and your consulting, create that change management?

Don. St. Clair: Okay. I’m gonna suggest something that everybody knows instinctually. I’m gonna ask a question, and I’m not gonna ask you the question. I’m gonna ask and then I’m gonna answer it myself. What’s the biggest obstacle to change in organizations? People, right? So we have to then go the next step. Why are people resistant to change? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and there’s a small fraction of people in your life who are resistant to change just because we become convinced that they get up in the morning with the sole purpose of making our lives miserable, right? But that’s not really many people. There are a lot of people doing that. People resist change because they’re afraid of it. They’re afraid of change. They don’t know what the future’s gonna look like. They don’t know if their work hours change, are they gonna be able to go their son’s soccer game; or if they moved over to this other department, they know how to do their job. If they’re moved over here, are they gonna be any good at what they do? They’re afraid of change.

So the first things we have to do is help people understand the necessity of the change, the need for the change, and then we have to create a sense of urgency. We have to create a sense of urgency, and the sense of urgency, it can emerge of crisis. It can emerge from, “We’ve gotta change or we’re gonna have a serious problem here.” So I might go to my doctor and he might say, “Dude, you better exercise a little bit and drop a couple of pounds or you’re gonna have a heart problem.” Okay, that’s one level of urgency. But when I actually have the problem, that’s another level of urgency. So you want to create some urgency around the need for change and help people understand why change is necessary, and it can emerge from a crisis or it can be a hopeful urgency. Imagine how great it would be if we did this. Imagine how cool this would be if we actually did this. That’s a hopeful sense of urgency. First thing you gotta do, you gotta understand that people are not, at least in my world, people are not inherently difficult to deal with.

We’re all difficult at points and at times and people are basically pretty nice. People are basically okay. So when you start peeling it back and asking why is this person resisting the change and can I help them overcome that fear, can I give them some comfort that will help them move forward, that’s a really big step.

Rick S.: And so I think the old model of leadership, there was a lot talked about motivation, what motivates you and what motivates a team and you brought up a really good point is that we can have a traumatic experience, which is what I call a pain motivator. Thus, it gets your attention and I have to change something. Yet, as a leader, and you mentioned that leadership’s about the future and you use the word imagine, right? “Imagine how great this is gonna be in the future,” is a great frame to go from and yet, you still have, let’s say, it’s 1,500 people in an organization. They all have their individual motivators. They’re all afraid of change. That’s a huge thing for a leader to take in. I mean, they may be excited. They may have the hope and then how to do they communicate that to that? So change is complicated, to say the least.

Don. St. Clair: Beyond complicated, it’s slow.

Rick S.: It’s slow, all right?

Don. St. Clair: It’s slow.

Rick S.: And yet in our environment where the competitions always there, everything’s happening so quickly, I don’t think change is quick enough to stay going, right? There’s a lot of turnover with organizations now and so on and so forth. We joke about football sometimes, right? It’s like, “Well, NFL teams …”

Don. St. Clair: Football’s not been funny this year. 

Rick S.: And NFL team goes seven and nine. The coach has been there one year. They gotta fire him. Right? There is no patient now involved. So it’s weird, where we have to be patient, yet we also have to look to the future and there is change and that change management, it sounds like that is a key skill that a leader has to have as they go forward. Is there anything else with change that you feel is necessary as we go forward?

Don. St. Clair: Yeah, I think you’ve gotta create the sense of urgency. As I said, you’ve gotta help people understand either through, as you say, a pain motivator or what I call a sense of hopefulness that this change needs to happen and this is why it needs to happen. I think there are some other things. You’ve gotta help people understand the route from here to here. So I can’t jump. Well, I can’t jump at all. But I can’t jump from here to that spot 10 feet over on the floor. I can’t do that. There’s no amount of training, nothing your gonna do for me. I can’t do that. But I could probably hop two feet and I could hop two feet and I could hop two feet and then I hop one more, two feet, and I’m there. So you gotta help people understand. This is the strategy. This is the goal. This is our aspirational future. But we’re not gonna go from here. We’re gonna have to take these steps. So people need to understand what the steps are. I know you want to get there. I’m down with that. I’m good with that.

But I don’t understand how we get there. I don’t think I can do it. So help them understand. This is how our organization is gonna get from here to here. These are the steps that we’re gonna take, and every time you make one of those two-foot hops, stop and celebrate it. Have a little party. Now, it doesn’t have to be a party-party. It can just be a minute and I’m the worst at this. I’m the guy in the corner of the bar when my football team’s playing and there’s a decent player and they’re up yelling and screaming and I’m like, “What are you doing? It’s a first down. That’s your job. Save that for a touchdown.” I’m the worst about this, and people that have worked with me for 30 years will tell you that I’m the worst about this because I get focused down here and I don’t like to celebrate the small wins. You gotta celebrate the small wins because people need that opportunity to refuel and reflect.

Rick S.: Yeah, I know one of the big motivators for people is recognition, right? They asked them, “Deep down, would you rather have a raise or recognition?” and a lot of them will say recognition, right? They want to be told they’re doing a good job. It helps motivate them for the future because the raise will wear itself off, and they’ll always be there. So I think that’s a key element. So one of the last things that I want to talk about is showing up, okay? So in my business model, I’m looking at how each individual performs on a day to day basis, how they’re focusing, how their attitude is, their energy levels because I feel that if they take care of those things, then they can lead better. They can communicate better, so on and so forth and we get everything from emotional management, so on and so forth. So when we look at showing up, share a story with me about, as a leader, where you saw that showing up was a key part of the process.

Don. St. Clair: Oh, that’s easy and this is such a silly story. It’s such a silly story. It probably goes back, I’m gonna say, 15 years ago now maybe and you know where I worked, the university where I worked previously and there’s a parking lot and not to make this complicated, but there was a standard parking lot with pull in parking spaces, drive in parking spaces and then out on the edge of the parking lot on the perimeter, there were a set of parallel spaces where you could parallel park and I don’t know why, but habitually, I got into the habit of parking out there. Now some parking lots out here, I’ve parked way out on the edge of the parking lot. My team in my offices were in the adjacent building with their windows facing the parking lot. So I pull in and I’d walk across this parking lot, which I’m gonna say was probably 50 to 75 yards and all the time I’m doing that, anybody on this side of the building who happened to be looking out the window could see me coming. So one day I come in. Somebody said, “Hey. You okay?”

I go, “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” He goes, “I don’t know. I saw you walking in from your car. You didn’t look very happy.” I’ve said there are no ah-ha moments. This was a moment of clarity though and I realized that you gotta show up. So I realized for me, showing up wasn’t having a smile on my face when I walk through the office door. Showing up was getting out of my car because people were looking. So there are two lessons in that. You have to act like you have someplace to be. It’s important to be there and you are really happy to be going there, even those days when you don’t feel that way. You gotta take that extra second in the car or wherever it is and get some spring in your step, number one. The second lesson for me about that was it’s like relearning what you already know is how much of an element of theater there is in leadership. People are watching you and they’re watching you all the time and they’re watching you when you don’t think they’re watching you and we could do countless examples.

But when you’re on, you’re on and you gotta act like you’re happy to be there, even if you’re not having your best day.


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