Can Executives Change?

I came across this question on a web site blog for executives that focus on management practices. My first reaction was, “Sure.”  I read some of the responses to the question and found they all support the idea that executives can change, but I saw words like fortitude, will power, and vision come up repeatedly. Mind you, these are all appropriate words but the responses seemed glib when I consider how difficult change really is. The answer to this question is not so obvious. I’m seeing executives today who would rather give up and move on than reinvent themselves and their organization. A change of venue is not necessarily the same as changing yourself.

While I have found successful executives lead their organizations for the greater good, I believe that there must be a strong personal motivator for them to effect a change. Most executives, particularly those schooled in leading by example, feel vulnerable when learning new skills with an undeterminable learning curve. Change is easier to achieve when a valued life goal is at stake. When I ask executives why they have taken on significant change initiatives, I rarely get the Sir Edmund Hillary response, “Because it’s there.” They usually have something more specific in mind.

I believe there are three success factors involved in change: a clear set of life goals, a sense of awareness that lets one question if the familiar ways are still the best way, and formation of a circle of trusted supporters that can help guide the change. Ideally, this circle of supporters will include people both inside and outside the executive’s organization.  When it comes to change, I prefer the other Sir Edmund Hillary quote; “I am a lucky man. I have had a dream and it has come true, and that is not a thing that happens often to men.”