Book Review: Change-friendly Leadership

Two years after the breakthrough book In Search of Excellence reported on 43 of the “best run” companies in America, 14 of the 43 firms were in financial trouble. The reason, according to a Businessweek study: their failure to deal effectively with change. In fact, many of these companies don’t exist anymore today! In 2012, with new technologies, social media and mobile platforms evolving at speed of light, companies are having a tough time adapting. In light of these changes and the inevitable resistance that comes with it, I came upon a great read: Change-friendly leadership: How to transform good intentions into great performance, written by Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan.


This book is an easy read, filled with anecdotes and famous quotes that help bringing the message home on key theoretical aspects. For example, Dr. Duncan shares four simple yet insightful strategies to navigate change, which he coins as the four Ts:

  • Think-Friendly behaviors include exercising curiosity, asking smart questions, and challenging your own conclusions.
  • Being Talk-Friendly involves dialogue skills, listening to learn and understand rather than to rebut or overpower.
  • A leader is Trust-Friendly by consistently earning trust and extending trust. This involves carefully avoiding common trust-busting behaviors that undermine credibility and influence.
  • Being Team-Friendly means working with people in ways that foster genuine collaboration. It’s much more than superficial “teamwork”, rather it’s like synergy on steroids, requiring a special openness to other people’s contributions.

Along the way, the author mentions the importance of conducting an open dialogue, in particular in Chapter 5 when he emphasizes the importance of “taming the elephants”. When asked what he meant, here was his reply:

“Most of us have been in situations where there’s a relevant issue that nobody seems willing to talk about. We might even say to ourselves: ‘there’s an elephant in the room, and I sure wish someone else would tame the animal’. The elephant, of course, is something that’s undiscussable.”

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“At NASA, insulation foam falling off fuel tanks and hitting space shuttles became an undiscussable. For Detroit automakers, the marketplace surge of Japanese cars was undiscussable. At IBM, Apple was an undiscussable. At Kodak, digital photography was an undiscussable.” These are all pretty powerful examples in the book, to which I would add how the music industry would not discuss Napster or iTunes, or how traditional print media would not discuss online advertising until recently.


Taken together, the four Ts ultimately inform seven key steps of the change-friendly protocol, which can be described as follows:

  1. Validate the journey: In addition to making a solid business case for change, you must make a compelling psychological case for change. Everyone listens to the same station: WIIFM – What’s in it for me? You’ll get little traction by merely telling people what to do. That feels like force. But you can make significant headway when you understand and appeal to their agenda. That fels like influence, and it requires authentic leadership.
  2. Scan for speed bumps: New ideas often fail, not on their relative merits but on how well resistance is handled. A change-friendly leader knows how to neutralize or convert resistance. This requires trust and authenticity.
  3. Chart the course: A change-friendly leader appreciates the value of compliance and understands the advantages of commitment. Earning commitment requires the systematic creation and reinforcement of behavioral norms based on trust and transparency, integrity, empathy and healthful relationships.
  4. Build a coalition: Critical to any successful change effort is the way you deal with champions, agents, sponsors and targets (CAST) characters. Synergy is not created by merely adding things together, but rather from bonding things together differently.
  5. Ford the streams: This is about ensuring that the change and transition fit comfortably with your organization’s pertinent cultural elements. The authentic leader acts as an emotional guide in helping people navigate the white water of resistance.
  6. Stay on message: Honest communication is the lubricant of all good relationships. The authentic leader is adept at using symbols and metaphors to reinforce desired behaviors. As Gandhi counseled, “become the change you seek in others”.
  7. Mind the gap: There is often a need to make course corrections, so change-friendly leaders have to calibrate for result to ensure that the gap between the current state and the desired state is constantly shrinking.


“You can rent a man’s back and hands. But you must earn his head and heart.” – Dr. Duncan

I know there are a plethora of good books out there on leadership and change management, so I really can’t judge how this one rates compared to others. Simply put, it details a process to get things done and explains the pitfalls and behaviors to watch in order to adjust along the way. It’s certainly an interesting read if you have to deal with change management, as most of you probably do simply by trying to keep up with social media marketing techniques and their impact on your overall online strategy!

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