Anyone with the slightest amount of objectivity would agree that we look at ourselves, other people, our circumstances, and everything else around us through filters that we have consciously or subconsciously constructed. We simply see what we look at and find what we look for, and take what we see as “the truth” for granted while rejecting every other perspective as wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support them. But knowing this makes no difference when we feel strongly about our worldview. When we are right, we are right and that’s that! We make up our mind which politician we are going to support or which department we are going to give our allegiance to, come hell or high water, and we end up doing everything we can to point to the speck in “those other people’s” eye while ignoring the plank in our own. We all have the tendency to act as if a foolish consistency is some kind of virtue, rather than “the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it.
Culture transformation is warfare, make no mistake. It’s true that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but our enemies—apathy, complacency, cynicism, resignation, hypocrisy, self-righteousness—are far more insidious and tenacious and dangerous than any physical combatant could ever be, for they can hide within and overtake anyone at any time. Considering the stakes of this epic battle, we would be wise to take stock of the tools we have at our disposal, on the front lines and at the top, and put them to good use. And I’m here to tell you that, bar none, the greatest “weapon” we have in this war are our words and our conversations with each other.
Nothing kills the momentum of a new initiative like the folkloric stories of past failed attempts that circulate whenever a leadership team attempts to unveil a transformative vision. This collective memory—usually circulated in hushed, cynical tones behind the scenes—that the organization has of similar initiatives that were introduced with enthusiasm, only to fail to produce any real results in the past, is exactly what ensures that history will repeat itself again. Whether we have labeled an initiative the “program of the month” as an excuse for not getting on board or we have heard the phrase from those who are not as enthusiastic as we are about what we are about to embark on, we know that it could turn into a self-fulling prophecy and slow down progress unless we clarify our messaging.
I have been approached in the past year or so by several people who wanted to know what the secret to our success has been and how I managed to make a smooth transition from my corporate career to my speaking and consulting practice. This post is intended to pull back the curtain a little and share a few principles that have helped us to succeed and excel along the way. Whether you are looking to moonlight as a solopreneur or you are looking to become a full-fledged consultant, I’d like to offer you some perspective that I believe will make a difference for you. In the spirit of transparency, this post does not contain specific sales and marketing techniques, so if that’s what you are looking for, I’m afraid I can’t help much. In fact, I consider myself a novice in those areas, as just about all of our business so far has come to us through word of mouth.
I often share the stories of successful turnarounds I have been involved in throughout my career in hopes of having others reapply the proven methods and accelerate the rate of their own progress. I am also fully aware that these stories sometimes make it sound like I always knew what to do and that I always took the right steps toward achieving my goals. Needless to say, as I try to often mention, that wasn’t the case at all. The journeys that have a happy ending hardly ever feel like that along the way, and my journey is no exception to this rule. Indeed, in my case, for every one thing my team and I did right, there were five things we got wrong and needed to fix, and in most cases, it was my fault too.