“I won’t push any of you, see? I didn’t give you anything, and you don’t owe me anything. Your power is yours; it has always been there. I’m just going to help you reach it. What you do with it, from there on, is up to you” – Shill
(from The Awakened Kingdom, N. K. Jemisin)
This quote from the end of The Awakened Kingdom perfectly describes how I’d like to see transformation consultants show up as they work with their clients and partners. I have long said that “a consultant cannot lead your transformation,” and now I have a short quote to explain why. A consultant can not give power, nor can agility itself, because power has always been there, always owned by the individuals, created by the company through its success to that date. What consultants can do, especially when it comes to agility in any of its forms, is help the people in a company see a path, understand what the journey looks like, and believe in their own ability to take that journey. A consultant can also accompany people along the journey, helping them to identify the pitfalls, avoid the common mistakes, and perhaps discover some easier, shorter routes to the next stage of the journey. Consultants can bring knowledge, inspiration, and ways of looking at the world that are new to the company, but they should not act to move the company. That movement must be led and driven from within.
I derive my approach to helping transform companies from this core belief as well. It is why I partner with senior leadership. I start with helping them articulate the goal of change, what outcomes they seek, and what a better world will look like when they are done with their change. From there, it becomes about finding the right people to shape and lead change inside the company, building the network that will ultimately provide the connections, inspiration, guidance and example that are required to sustain any new way of working. I work to empower this network, helping them to realize the influence they already have within their company, how ready their organization truly is to hear and embrace the ideas of agility, and shape the path that will allow the company to move to a better place.
Through this approach, I find it less likely people feel agility is inflicted upon them, and that it starts to seed the culture of ownership and personal responsibility throughout the organization. Change is not optional, yet we approach change with empathy and offer the opportunity to engage willingly and wholeheartedly. This opportunity provides a critical difference in creating a culture of engagement, contribution, and responsibility.
Beware of internal leaders or consultants that use language of what they, as individuals, will do to the company. Language like “I will lead your transformation” or “I will make the company agile” is dangerous, because it exposes an individual-centric view, rather than one that is encompasses all stakeholders. It is unlikely to consider the diversity of perspective that is present in the company, and often indicates that the individual will pursue a conformity driven approach to agile adoption that is unlikely to permit actual agility.
The Inheritance Trilogy has been consuming all of my reading time over the last week, as I fell in love with the writing, the style, and everything else about the brilliant universe that Nora created in this trilogy. While I do occasionally feel guilt when I read excessively for pleasure, and let go of my habits of reading business and brain development books, this time paid off in the final paragraphs of the novella included in the edition that I purchased. This quote, better than almost any that I have seen, captures my mindset and intent around agile transformation and the unleashing of potential of individual humans. It aligns to the outcomes I craved in my work with the Women in Agile movement, it aligns brilliantly with how I hope to contribute to systemic change associated with Black Lives Matter, and it matches how I hope to see every individual in every company show up as they assume their power and capability, and the responsibility that comes along with it. Thank you, Nora.