In a Harvard Business Review article, Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria wrote: “Despite some individual successes, however, change remains difficult to pull off, and few companies manage the process as well as they would like. Most of their initiatives—installing new technology, downsizing, restructuring or trying to change corporate culture—have had low success rates. The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.”
Although written in 2000, asking executives today, the statistics seem to be about the same. The costs of this are staggering. What is at the root of this failure rate? What is missing?
It is the third transformation needed to be a powerful leader: becoming someone whose word is their bond.
In business and life, there are always situations, changing conditions, problems large and small. This is part of the fabric of business and life. There are a multitude of difficult circumstances and good reasons why something can’t/didn’t happen. And leaders are in the business of making happen what was not going to happen.
Here’s what George Bernard Shaw had to say about this:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him.
The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself.
All progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-from Maximums for Revolutionists
How do you become an “unreasonable” leader?
Quoting Michael Jensen, Professor Emeritus of the Harvard Business School:
Doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it.
The essence of being “unreasonable” and making happen what otherwise would not happen, what is often inconvenient, uncomfortable, and uncertain, and what sometimes may even seem impossible, is being someone whose word is their bond—in particular in the face of one’s own self-doubts, considerations, and one’s own “reasons why not.”
And such a leader asks the same of those they lead.
This is the lever that moves the mountain.