In my management workshops, we often discuss the challenges associated with leading organizational change. Usually the discussion involves some specific process, HR practice, or habitual management behaviors deeply embedded in their organization’s or company’s culture. Inevitably, there are always a few participants who have already thrown in the towel because as they say “the system just cannot be changed”.
I believe they are often surprised when I sympathize with their frustration, not because organizational systems are incapable of evolution and change over time, but because any single manager rarely can effect the course of an entire organizational process all by his or herself.
I use these moments to make what I consider a vitally important point about being an effective manager. All managers will have moments in their careers when they get to decide what behaviors will define them as individuals — as opposed to their organization’s management team in general. These can be difficult moments, especially when we are considering swimming against the stream on some matter of importance to us. Nevertheless, we have a choice and that choice defines, to some degree, who we are as a manager.
So I tell workshop participants that when it comes to these defining moments, I believe the best managers are those that seize the moment and decide to at least “change the room they are in”. All managers have real authority, influence, and the capacity to set an example for their subordinates. Your span of control may be small and you might feel like a very small fish in a big pond but those entrusted to your management skills are watching YOU and what you do. This is where your capacity as a role model can have an impact far beyond what you may expect.
From time to time in this blog, I will address a number of the most critical defining moments all managers are likely to face during a career. But for now, start by rejecting from now on the urge to use systemic intransigence as an excuse for not doing something that you believe you should. Whether or not the larger organization follows your lead, you have defined yourself for those who follow you.