How passive resistance slows your transformation

“Steven! The basement is flooded,” my wife cried.

Every year our lawn care service cleans the eave troughs at our farmhouse in Michigan. The proof that they have done a great job is a dry basement.

A few days ago, a heavy thunderstorm pummeled us with a downpour. Imagine my surprise as I watched the eave troughs all around the house overflow until the storm was over. The next morning, we found pools of water in our normally dry basement. Determined to restore my basement to dryness, my wife and I donned our work clothes, and dragged a ladder and garden hose out of the barn. Within minutes we discovered that although the eaves troughs were clear, the down spouts were plugged with years of debris. After two hours of disassembling, clearing and reinstalling the downspouts we proclaimed the project complete. Water flowed freely.

Transformational change is like rainwater. Your team will take the path of least resistance to achieve its goals – or attempt to. It’s often those unseen obstructions that create resistance for you to achieve your goals.

Like those downspouts, you might need to proactively seek out and address areas of resistance in your organization. Metaphorically speaking, you might need to poke around a bit to find out where there is resistance, why it exists, and take steps to adapt to the risks it manifests.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




Why we need greater focus on integrity

Every day it seems we read about integrity failures in leadership. Wells Fargo, Boeing, United Airlines, Tesla, college admission scandals, sex scandals, coverups and more. People lose faith in organizations when their leaders misbehave. Or worse yet, cover up their misbehavior.

On a personal level, I’m concerned about how this affects our children and grandchildren. Are we teaching them that reduced integrity is okay?

And on a professional level, I’m concerned that managers are racing to the bottom in a world that seems to give greater attention to the integrity deficit culture we’ve produced.

According to Merriam-Webster, integrity is defined as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility.”

Yet volumes have been written about how good leaders step up their personal game, ensuring they have a good moral code. This in turn demonstrates to their followers that they are committed not just to the transformation at hand but doing so in a manner that is completely above board and preserves the dignity of all of those involved – even themselves.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How one family is helping to transform a community

Rick Moersch is the owner of Moersch Hospitality Group, whose brand names include Tabor Hill, Round Barn and Free Run. Located in and near the village of Baroda in southwest Michigan, Rick’s enterprises are great destinations. Just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, the wine trail covers many wineries, breweries and several restaurants for you to spend a day, a weekend or longer.

Steve: Tell me how you came to start your business?

Rick: I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I came to this area to teach school. I taught school for seven years in Berrien Springs. Most of my students lived on farms. I thought I would love being able to make my living on the land. I was struck by the area, mostly agricultural, with tons of potential. I thought, gosh, if we don’t do something to bring notoriety, we’ll just become a bedroom community for Chicago and other nearby cities.

Steve: What was the transformation you led?

Rick: My work has been all about converting an agricultural, blue collar community into a destination for America. Those students, they could play sports, work on the family farm and their future was to work in a local small manufacturing firm. I wanted to provide more than this. The combination of great potential with a great work force seemed unbeatable.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?

Rick: Invariably as an entrepreneur, I’m in sales. I’m selling an idea or a dream. I remember once early on I was standing in front of that old, rusty barn, with an old tractor sitting in the background. I was convincing a banker that he ought to lend me money to pursue my dream. He asked, “What else do you have besides old equipment and over-inflated land values?” It was tough. I had a dream. A vision. A purpose. Over time I found lenders who would help, but it took a great deal of time and sweat equity.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Rick: In the early years, I created alliances with Tabor Hill, Fenn Valley and international organizations. We started out by grafting and selling grape vines. In those first few years we sold over a million vines. We did this to fund our ongoing vineyard development. I worked 14-20 hours a day for 20 years.

Now we are up to 230 employees. Excitement rubs off. When employees see you working hard, they dive in. I work to balance empathy with high expectations. It’s a challenge. It’s hard work, low pay and few benefits, but employees receive one heck of an education.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced.

Rick: First, I found that I needed to surround myself with people I can trust. We worked together realizing that we had to think ahead, take risk, and not penalize each other for making mistakes. You must be a team player, especially as the leader. Growing this business from one employee to 230 requires a great deal of self-reflection. After a while, you lose the ability to control everything directly. You need to be comfortable with this.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Rick: It all started back when I was teaching. I was also a football and tennis coach. You have ideas on how people ought to perform, and you help people learn from experience and achieve success. Experience comes when things don’t go your way. Plus, you must keep reading, talking, asking questions and learning. For example, look at Europe and what’s happening there – we learned how to leverage best practices.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Rick: I live by this Buddhist quote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
You must keep a beginner’s mind.

How poor character hampers success

Last week I wrote about the integrity deficit challenging my readers to think about where they stand on the integrity scale. Today, let’s talk more broadly about character.

In the last several months I’ve interacted with three organizational leaders who have what I call character deficit. Like integrity deficit – which focuses on basic issues of trust or lack thereof – character deficit looks at elements of character that are somehow missing and disenfranchises their leadership teams and employees.

I experienced these behaviors with these three leaders:

  • Unwilling to listen to the needs of others and more concerned with making their own pronouncements, which led to low enrollment and dragging out a transformation timeline much further that was productive and costing the organization millions of dollars.
  • Over anxiousness about achieving their own goals and not effectively collaborating with others with whom they had an interdependent relationship, leading to disenfranchised employees and again, elongated timelines.
  • Committing to assist team members then not following through, leading to frustration, stagnation and resignation – literally and on-the-job (on-the-job resignation simply means employees stay on the job, but don’t engage).

In all three cases, these poor behaviors drove lower enrollment of team members and employees to their respective transformations. In all three cases, the common theme is self-importance or selfishness.

Successful leaders of transformational change realize that they don’t have all the answers. They drive enrollment by asking questions and following through. They support their leadership teams needs while providing direction, but not in a dogmatic way. Basically, they are humble, and they are selfless.

Call to action. I challenge you to take some time and truly be introspective about your leadership. A great guide is Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player. He promotes three characteristics of team players that every leader will benefit from.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How Purpose Motivates more than Money


Free college! This is one of the messages of many of those in the running to become the next president of the United States.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes successes Kalamazoo, Michigan, has had with a privately funded paid tuition program. The program, Kalamazoo Promise, began in 2005. This provides enough time to evaluate both successes and failures. On the upside the city has helped 5,735 students achieve higher education than they might not otherwise have had. On the downside, there is also a high rate of dropouts from the program. The most often cited reasons are lack of family support and lack of purpose.

Some students who participated in the program experienced depression and ultimately dropped out. As researchers explored this, they found that these students took advantage of the program because it was available and because they were taught to “…’go to college, go to college,’ and not ‘go to college for this reason.’”

This is a relevant example of how leading with clear purpose overshadows any ability you might have to throw more money at your transformation.

If you are leading a transformation, and your employees cannot relate to the outcomes, or don’t understand the purpose, they’ll “drop out.”

There needs to be a compelling reason for your employees to gain the desire to follow you on your transformation journey. And this reason needs to resonate with them. Even if you pay your employees more money, the still won’t go on the ride.

Call to action: When starting your next transformation, be absolutely crystal clear on your purpose. Be sure employees understand the outcomes and understand the value of the transformation in terms that resonate with them. Be inspirational. Be excited about the outcomes you want to achieve. Show them the way.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




How resilience and perseverance founded a great nation

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. The weather is usually perfect for a picnic with family or friends, and we enjoy time together sharing, playing ball, and watching the obligatory fireworks. Yet I wonder if some of our populace truly understand what our early leaders endured to achieve this independence, we celebrate each year.

Over the last few years, I’ve read biographies regarding three of our country’s early leaders: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. As a result, I discovered two common traits shared by these three men: resilience and perseverance. In all three cases, these men persevered through a variety of challenges and setbacks to remain true to their cause. In all three cases, they were resilient – bouncing back from failure to try a different approach to achieving their goals.

The same is true for any of us who lead transformational change. In order to achieve our goals, we call upon ourselves to never give up, and drive forward sometimes in the face of great adversity. But it’s worth it. You come out on the other end knowing that what you have achieved is greater than you might have expected, fulfilling your goals and those of many others.

May you enjoy this day with family or friends. Use this time to rejuvenate, refuel and share . all that you have with those you love and care for.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How your personal behavior influences the success of your transformation

I received a call from an organization that was interested in my Activate workshop to handle a behavioral problem in the organization that was creating roadblocks to success. The caller was not a senior leader, but someone in the talent organization. I asked them to introduce the CEO and they declined saying, “Mr. X has asked us to deal with the challenges we are facing; he doesn’t like to deal with these personal, behavioral issues.”

I politely declined the opportunity to work with them.

In my experience, senior leaders are essential to leading transformative change – particularly when that change requires changing behavior in the organization. If the leader is unable to model the desired behavior, it will be many times more difficult to successfully change behaviors in the organization, if at all.

Here are three traits I look for in leaders of successful transformational change:

  1. They realize and are open about the fact that they do not have all the answers. They are willing to engage with others on a peer-to-peer basis to learn more about the impact they are having on the transformation. They are willing to personally confront their own insecurities and act to ensure these don’t negatively impact the transformation.
  2. Leaders have the courage to face other leaders and their employees. They are willing to have difficult conversations with those who might require it. They are willing to reveal more about major challenges. They are more genuine in their approach to the transformation when interacting with others.
  3. Selfless leaders do what it takes to lead through the transformation. They eliminate selfishness from their lives. They give freely of their time and energy to drive things forward. And they do all of this with little thought about the cost to them personally.

Call to action: Set aside one hour to reflect on these traits. Determine how you measure up. Define steps or changes in your own behavior to implement greater effectiveness in your transformational leadership.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How hierarchical adherence can slow down your transformation

I’m in the middle of reading General Stanley Chrystal’s, Team of Teams. One concept he describes in the book is how our historically hierarchical organizational structures stand in the way of our ability to move quickly when called upon. Putting this in layman’s terms, employees in one function feel constrained to speak with employees in other functions unless they go through their chain of command. This exponentially adds time delay that can be devastating to customer metrics. Incidentally, this issue is one of the predominant reasons it took so long to deal with the Iraq war.

When I counsel with executives about implementing their strategies to transform their organization, one of the cultural elements we discuss is “hierarchical adherence.” How much do employees follow their chains of command versus how freely they feel to simply pick up the phone or walk over to speak with a colleague in another function? You would think that in order to quickly implement transformational change, you would want everything neat and tidy, organizationally speaking. Clear roles with clear accountabilities, including clear hand-offs between functions. Not so.

Fine-tuning your cross-functional dysfunction does not mean making it go away. It means having enough alignment at the top to ensure employees are marching toward the same purpose, but not spelling out every detail of every transaction. The more you encourage employees to work out their needs, the stronger the connections they will have. When the time comes to implement a big transformation, they will have established better working relationships across the organization. This accelerates their ability to clarify unknowns and determine and support each other’s needs.

In the late 1800s, Fredrick Taylor revolutionized industry by driving greater efficiency through highly structured processes and organizations to support them. This served us well for a century or more. For us to remain competitive, however, we need to transform our organizations quickly to adapt to the environments in which we work. You can prepare for your next transformation by enrolling your employees early to work together, understand their respective impacts, and devise their own plan to accomplish your purpose.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Why resistance is not only good, it is necessary

In many of my speeches I ask audience members to tell me what they think when they hear or see the word RESISTANCE. I receive answers such as: negative, unwanted, bad, slows things down, troublemaker, opposition, defiant or struggle. One time, a woman answered, “Necessary.”

She was right. Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary. Oftentimes executives begin executing their strategy and they might not know all the answers about what’s going on in their organization. They may overlook something or may not have considered an important prerequisite. Somewhere in the organization, there is someone who has overlooked something and not considered an important prerequisite. On the surface, this person might be thought of as a resister, yet they hold one of the keys to the leader’s success.

In one transformation in which I was involved, the leaders overlooked an important infrastructural requirement. They did not realize it until they took the time to speak with a group of employees previously considered “problematic.” Together, they identified the problem and implemented a solution.

Seek out resistance in your transformation. Here’s a simple outline to follow:

  1. Actively seek out those in your organization who are resistant to your transformation. Start with your immediate leadership team. Ask them about pockets of resistance. Go deeper from there.
  2. Ask don’t tell. When you find your resisters, now is not the time to advocate your cause as it will only turn people off. Start by asking questions to dig into their resistance. Be careful with asking WHY questions as these sometimes convey judgement. One of my favorite questions is “What are we missing?”
  3. Identify and document. List concerns, issues and risks that surface. Do this in front of the resisters, showing them that you are actively listening and genuinely concerned.
  4. Follow through. Nothing kills credibility like telling your employees that you’re going to do something, and then you don’t. Close off each of the items that surface, and report back about the disposition and progress. For items requiring a longer resolution time, add them to the project plan and ensure resolution.
  5. Enroll the resisters. I have found that those who are resistant often become your most passionate supporters. Give them a meaningful role during the transformation. One client gave them a role as spokesperson. There are few opening lines more powerful than, “I used to think this wasn’t a good idea, but I changed my mind when….”

By following this simple five-step approach, you will fuel your transformation to move along faster, and enroll employees whose enthusiasm and passion for the change will help enroll others throughout your organization.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,