Leadership and the Challenge of Change

I am not a baseball fan.  Nonetheless the other day, I sat, somewhat reluctantly, in front of my television and watched the movie Moneyball.  I say somewhat reluctantly because, well, Brad Pitt was involved… so I forced myself.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, “Moneyball” is based on the story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. It’s about how he defied deeply entrenched tradition and beliefs and changed the game’s system of player selection forever.

There are valuable lessons and reminders in this story that for any leader are worth considering when it comes to making change happen.  Here are just a few of them:

Begin by defining the problem correctly

Change usually begins with a problem. While everyone involved might acknowledge its existence, it would be a mistake to assume that everyone sees it in the same way.  Here is a clip

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Billy Beane saw the problem as one of disadvantage.  His scouts saw the problem, more traditionally, as one of deficiency.   If you fail to see the problem in the same way, resolving it will be that much harder.

To find a different solution, you have to employ different means and sometimes, different people

In order to better understand and resolve his problem, Billy partnered with a very unlikely individual.  Peter was an economist, newly graduated from a prestigious University, who had developed an unorthodox method of player evaluation.  It was an untested process and yet to Billy, it spoke of possibility.  Sometimes to make change happen, you’ve got to take a leap of faith.

Once you’re committed, there’s no going back

Billy’s story made me think about just how hard it is to make a major change in any organization.  At some point in the process the going is bound to get tough, often unbearably so.  In spite of it, a leader’s belief in what s/he is doing cannot waiver, especially in the face of naysayers.  Failure is always a possibility but giving up too soon, or not trying in the first place, is a kind of failure in itself.

In the face of immovable obstacles, go around

In the movie, the Oakland Athletics Team Manager was fiercely opposed to Billy’s new approach.  Billy’s suggestions for player positioning fell on deaf, and  very stubborn, ears.  The manager continued to play in his time-honoured way, honestly believing that Billy was making a terrible mistake.  No manner of persuasion would convince him otherwise.  So Billy traded the players favoured by the team manager, effectively forcing him to do something different.  Sometimes you have to rattle the cage hard.

Know when it’s your turn to take charge

The introduction of a new process and a new Assistant GM was a great boon to Billy in initiating change.  When something is working it is tempting to become reliant on it for all the answers.  However, good leaders understand that a system, process, or even the advice of others can only take you so far.  That means that on  occasion, decisions have to come from your own experience, your own talents and your own understanding of what’s going on.  It goes with the territory.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Please Note: The clip used from the movie “Moneyball” is not used for commercial purposes or financial gain.  It is respectfully borrowed from Sony Pictures for illustration purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyright.

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16 Comments

Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Vision, Leading Change, Leading Teams, Management

16 responses to “Leadership and the Challenge of Change

  1. This reminds me of something Peter Drucker once said, which went something like this: People say ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but that’s a short-sighted strategy. The correct strategy is change it before it breaks.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Bonnie ~ Peter Drucker is one of my favourite management experts. And I agree. Those who are able to see “the problem” early enough to make change before it becomes one are that much farther ahead.
      Thanks for that and for coming by!

  2. People dislike change thus the leader needs practical wisdom in how to introduce that change. No matter how good a leader they can be undermined by those above and below them.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Alex ~ Yes, and that’s is one of the things that makes change so hard. It also speaks to the need for the change leader to be self aware and confident enough to manage his/her way through the really rough parts.
      This kind of stuff is not for the faint of heart.

  3. Gwyn-

    First, love the quote: “Failure is always a possibility but giving up too soon, or not trying in the first place, is a kind of failure in itself.”

    Change is hard for most people. And if you are the change agent it is often hardest on you. Your outlined process is onj-point. It starts with everyone speaking the same language about what the problem is, and follow through.

    The only addition I would add (haven’t seen the movie) is that you need to know when its time to leave. A point will eventually come when either the change begins to happen, or you feel yourself circling the same drain meeting after meeting. You have to know when to “fold ’em”

    Good post,as always,

    Martina

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Martina ~ You make an important point. Sometimes, no matter what you try, the change you want to make is no match for the culture in which you want to make it. So knowing when to walk away…or when to run allows time for working on things that will work, somewhere else.
      Thanks for adding that. It’s always nice to see you here.

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  7. naciec

    Hi Gwyn – I really like your emphasis here on identifying the problem. I didn’t see Moneyball, but that clip alone has inspired me to. I think that so many entrepreneurs and small businesses misidentify their problems, therefore they don’t get the right result. Problem solving isn’t the key point of change management and leadership…it is problem identifying in the context of change.

    Great food for thought!

    Nacie

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Nacie ~ That particular movie clip reminded me of so many conversations I have observed and been a part of. As you say, if we are focusing on the wrong thing, we can’t expect the right result. Thanks for that and for taking the time to comment 🙂

  8. brandonjones208626736

    Gwyn,

    I really like this post. It is so interesting how some people are so resistant to change. During the past eight months I have been in a new position and have found that there are many areas for improvement. As I have tried to make changes I have met challenges, to say the least, on almost every front. Most of the resistance comes from people that have been doing the same thing the same way for 15-20 years. Even after I fully explain the ins and outs of the process change (the why, what, how, etc) I still did significant resistance. The more I work at it, the more those walls come down, but it is a very challenging process when they have been built up and strengthened for so many years. Thanks for sharing!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Brandon ~ Yes, when we talk about the change process in an objective way, it seems to be a fairly straightforward thing to do. As you are finding out, understanding something intellectually is an entirely different thing from understanding, and agreeing, with it in actuality. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. It serves to highlight that telling… and doing, are entirely different things!

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