Toast Note - 15 June 2017

I’ve had some wonderful people schooling me lately, challenging my thinking on my role in the field of change and really what my purpose is with my current employer. I’ve always had this working theory that people in the ‘change management’ biz are not leaders. We’re more like project managers except for emotions, knowledge, people experience, and adaptation. We’re there to ignite Real Leaders™ not act as primary voices for change ourselves.

Now to be fair to my assumptions, I’d like to point out that best practice research on the field by the leading (commercial) certification body says, “Yep. No one wants to hear a message regarding change from the Change Manager.” In fact, actually, they don’t want to hear about changes in their personal circumstance from anyone but their manager by such a wide margin it makes the graphic look somewhat silly. But, as our practice evolves and as businesses increasingly transition from event driven, programmatic change and towards agile, incremental and transformative change, I know we’re revisiting what both communications and change professionals do and how and where they add value. At the same time, we might need to rethink how and where they sit on the ‘leader spectrum’.

Because on the one hand, someone who does a good job of questioning every assumption in our business asked me yesterday, “Do you need to be at the Leader Summit?” He was asking, are you a leader? And of course my first CM trained instinct is to say, NO NO NONonononono. I don’t have people to manage, I don’t make decisions about our strategy, I don’t have any delegated spending authority. I’m not a leader. Which isn’t bullshit … but it’s also not entirely true and why I was also reactively thinking, “WTF! Of course I need to be at a leader summit.”

Because on the other hand, when I tried to duck out of being one of the voices in the NZ Leadership Guild for people snacks, some young turks who are really the future energy of the company called bullshit and pointed out that I am an influencer – both on social and with individuals who are looking for ideas and motivation. That was really gratifying, of course. Everyone who is in their 50s needs a couple of 20 year olds telling them they are still relevant and cool.

So which is it. Are those of us in the field of change leaders? Are we supposed to be? And in this case, wouldn’t we have to really double down on the definition of a leader as something outside the organisational bounds? I’d put Allison and Peter in the Hell yes! they are leaders camp, but my excuse was probably predicated on the fact that they managed people while also driving change. But they continue to be true leaders even without folk so… yeah. The whole conflict is making me really uncomfortable, to be perfectly honest. Who knew I’d finally run up against a changing social norm that makes me nervous.

“Learning to live with ambiguity is learning to live with how life really is, full of complexities and strange surprises.” ~ James Hollis