Be the leader you need

Dec. 1, 2008
One of the books I most recently read on the topic of organizational change is Our Iceberg Is Melting.

by Patrick McLaughlin

One of the books I most recently read on the topic of organizational change is Our Iceberg Is Melting. Subtitled "Changing and succeeding under any conditions," the fable, which is now about four years old, is praised by some for being as insightful as it is simplistic. I have heard others criticize it for its simplistic portrayal of the chaotic upheaval that usu-ally marks a change in corporate culture. Authors John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber take the reader through an eight-step process that they say facilitates successful change.

Other than identifying which of the book's characters most resembled me, what I paid specific attention to was which characters in the book emerged as the group's leaders, working to drive the necessary culture change.

That got me thinking about an even older book I read, and that still sits on my file cabinet because I refer to it with some frequency. Rudy Giuliani's book, Leadership, tells his firsthand account of his time as New York City's mayor. The ironic thing is he had a draft of the book completed before September 11, 2001. Needless to say, that day's events and their aftermath required him to alter the book significantly from that early draft.

The final version of Leadership included multiple examples of Mayor Giuliani implementing a given policy throughout his administration, and then also effectively administering it on or immediately after 9/11. The point was clear to this reader: Giuliani's time-tested leadership qualities guided him, the city, and in many ways the country, through the 9/11 tragedy. On many other occasions however, he had no precedent as the basis for his decision-making. The world changed that day, and there wasn't a single person on the planet who could have given the mayor any advice that would have come from meaningful experience. He had to make many of his own calls.

While none of us are dealing with crises or decisions of the magnitude that Rudy Giuliani faced in September 2001, many nonetheless are dealing with situations that are extremely challenging and unprecedented for us. There is no oracle for us to consult. In times like these, I'll dust off Giuliani's book, admire his courage, and strive to follow his example of filling the leadership vacuum by being the leader who's needed.

If you have some time as the year winds to a close, you might find a good use of that time to be reading Leadership or Our Iceberg Is Melting. Or both. If you can't find either one, email me. I have a copy of each I'd be happy to loan you.

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