Change is a constant
Q: As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we often look back at the people and experiences that helped us get where we are. Who (and what) were your "game-changers," and how did they change the way you look at your life and career?
Game changers come in many disguises. I've known ones that delighted me with surprisingly generous support. I've also had to cope with those who threw wrenches into my elegant plans. My experience has taught me to make friends with change as a constant success strategy.
One game changer early in my professional life taught me how to be less naive and more self-reliant. I had a lot of friends in my place of work, buddies who shared drinks after work and tales of woe from the office.
But then I found myself in charge, and suddenly, my friends became my subordinates. I thought I could count on them to support my bold new plans for our organization. Not a chance! One ex-friend made it clear that I had "gone over to the dark side" by taking a management position. Learning how to become a good manager meant that I had to be less naive about relationships. The disdain of my friends actually helped me to grow up professionally.
A far more pleasant and long-lasting game changer started with a phone call one day, about a decade into my presidency at Trinity. The caller was the husband of an alumna who was about to mark her 60th reunion. He wanted to honor her with an extraordinary gift to Trinity, something that would really ensure the university's future. The call came at a moment when I was trying to figure out how to launch Trinity's Centennial Campaign, at that time the largest fund-raising effort in our history.
I went to New York to meet our potential benefactor and his wife, and we spent a long lunch discussing Trinity's needs. He was not completely convinced since so much had changed since her graduation decades earlier. So I invited them to spend a day on campus.
At the end of that day, as we walked across our old hockey field where I described plans to build a magnificent new sports center for Trinity, the benefactor stopped me and said, "You've never raised that kind of money before. You need a great deal of help. I will pledge $1 million to launch the campaign if you can raise the next $4 million in two years."
I was stunned. This was a game changer! Two years later, those great benefactors proudly hoisted shovels to help me break ground for the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports, a magnificent athletic and recreational facility that has truly changed opportunities for Trinity and our community in northeast Washington.
As I have matured professionally, I have learned that game changers are not mere serendipity. Whether for better or worse, leaders set forces in motion that become the game changers for them and their organizations. Bad leaders fail to understand how their actions create or mismanage debilitating game changers. Good leaders develop skill in seizing the opportunities when change comes along.
Great leaders plan the game changers quite deliberately, knowing that change is essential for organizations to thrive. Such leaders also cope more successfully with negative changes that are thrust upon them since they have learned to manage change continuously.
Corporate examples abound. The Commodore 64 remains the world's single best-selling computer, but Commodore had just one successful product and could not change fast enough to keep up with the digital times. Commodore went bankrupt.
Apple could have suffered the same fate, until Steve Jobs realized the value of continuous change -- the iPod was one of the most remarkable business game changers in history, and the line of "i" products today is a monument to the realization that a successful business must make change a centerpiece of its strategy.