Secret (change) Agent Man

Joe —  Sun 24-Jan-10

Secret Change Agent ManI had lunch this week with a friend that works in another company. Their firm was recently acquired which left him a bit nervous about his future. He decided it was time to leave. When he gave his notice his boss told him what an incredible future he had in this new acquisition because the new company’s team was mediocre at best and that he would shine like a star without having to do anything.

Hmmm, that was supposed to be his motivation to stay – being surrounded by mediocrity.

Actually, being surrounded by mediocrity may be exactly what you are looking for in a company. Not for the reason that my friend’s boss indicated,but because of your talents and desires. If you were a psychiatrist don’t you think that it would be a great opportunity to work in the prison system; how about being a doctor and working in a third world nation? You want to put yourself into opportunities that play to your strength.

If what you do best and enjoy is changing organizations, making something out of nothing or moving them in a direction they wouldn’t go on their own, mediocrity can be the anthill to an aardvark – but you have to know who you are and how big the opportunity really is.

My career has been built around being a change agent. I am often brought into organizations because they need things to be different. In this role I have had some incredible successes and a couple of abysmal failures. When I look at all of my failures, I find one common element – I could have predicted my failure before I accepted the challenge.

That sure sounds like I am not accepting responsibility for my contribution in the failure. On the contrary, I was fully responsible. My first and biggest failure was in letting my ego factor into the decision of accepting the challenge. “Wow, this is a huge challenge that only I could solve. Ignore the fact that three far more capable leaders than I have failed at this before me because I am Secret Change Agent Man.”

Ugh! Seriously – ugh!

As stated earlier, if you are going to take on the task of changing something you have to know who you are and how big the opportunity really is. It may be bigger than you. A former boss of mine was fond of saying Psychologist Lightbulb Joke“You don’t join the Army to change the Army.” While that sounds defeatist it is also very wise. Not every opportunity is the Army, but some are and you have to be able to spot them early on. In every opportunity to change a group there is a likely possibility that it may change you instead.

Back to the earlier conversation my friend had with his boss. If instead his boss would have told him that there is mediocrity in the new group and that he would have an opportunity to correct that, being an agent of change my friend would have been all ears. He would have been a fool to accept it though, as the acquiring organization had been around a lot longer, was much larger than his, and didn’t seem to think that anything needed to change.

He was more likely to become part of the Army – and he knew that.

Today’s Question
What indicators do you use to determine if a change opportunity is the right one or not?