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Carol Kinsey Goman
Leadership consultant

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker. Her latest book is The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.

The death of old ways

Question: In taking control of the House this week, Republicans have committed themselves to investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years. How much should the new leaders of any organization focus on undoing the past as opposed to charting a more affirmative course for the future?

The beginning of anything new always signals the death of the old. Changing the way work gets done means employees having to give up the competence and confidence they gained under the old system. Employees under new leadership must relinquish the relationships they created with their previous boss. A work force relocating to new facilities has to move from the existing building. And with every "death" comes a period of mourning where people grieve for what they are being asked to leave behind. This is why you can expect that employees in the midst of a cultural transformation are almost certain to take a nostalgic look back at "the good old days" and to mourn the passing of that familiar culture.

Effective leaders of change focus on the future without describing the past as wrong. It is almost always unproductive to tell people that they must change to "correct" past performance. (It is also unrealistic to speak of "correcting" in cases where the past has been highly successful, but still needs to change.) In any case, it is wise to assume that workers have done their best. Telling them it was not good enough--that, in effect, they were not good enough--is demoralizing, de-motivating and guaranteed to build resentment.

Instead of blaming the old ways, leaders can help employees detach from the past by allowing them to mourn it. To facilitate people through the mourning period, I've seen the past honored in a variety of rituals. From pictorial displays on company walls to parties celebrating the history of the organization, rituals help people say good-bye and move on to embrace the future.

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By Carol Kinsey Goman

 |  January 4, 2011; 11:27 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Corporate leadership , Organizational Culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Making good on a promise | Next: It all depends on your goal


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Republican voters are motivated by being made afraid of change and are led to believe that other problems are either non-existent or overblown, because powerful vested interest groups do not want the Federal government telling them that they must undertake certain initiatives at their expense, for the good of society as a whole.

It's not that the political parties don't want to move beyond the past. The problem is that they lie, and have done so for decades. For example, many older Americans actually believe that they are "entitled" to receive Social Security and Medicare because they paid into the system when they were younger. It doesn't do any good to tell them that when they were working, they were paying for others who were older than them and that the Government never actually set-aside any money. This is what they BELIEVE because this was the rationale that generations of politicians have used as part of their lie; that payroll taxes were not a "tax" they were a "contribution". Even Republicans say that "poor people pay no taxes", which is a lie since every working person regardless of income level pays 6.5 percent into Social Security and 3.5 percent into Medicare.

How do you get people to give up a culture that has been based on a lie ever since Lyndon Johnson started using Social Security receipts to help pay for the Vietnam War?

Posted by: armyofone | January 8, 2011 3:23 AM
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One Attaboy! Is worth three rbutts!

Posted by: rryder1 | January 7, 2011 3:11 PM
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