Change-Friendly Leadership

Nov 14, 2012 No Comments by

The last article on theBigRocks was authored by our first-ever guest writer.  Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan is an accomplished Change Agent who worked for several decades in the field before capturing his methods in a book called “Change Friendly Leadership“. He shared part of his new book in that post. I would encourage you to check it out here.

Today I will offer my impressions on the book.

Change Agent Tip #56: Be a Change-Friendly Leader

Sadly, many organizational changes are driven using “top-down” methods. “Bosses” define the future and tell people to buckle down and get there. This way of tackling change starts with good intentions and relies on leveraging authority. It often ends with threats and lose-lose decisions.

The results of this approach are typically mixed or poor.

In his new book, “Change-Friendly Leadership“, Dr Rodger Dean Duncan outlines the costs of failed change and makes the case for why organizations and their leaders need to take a different approach.

He suggests that the most effective change leaders truly engage their employees.

Carrots -v- Sticks: Instead of staking the entire change on one’s ability to establish and enforce authority – Duncan encourages leaders to establish meaningful, authentic relationships, then leverage shared goals and values as the basis for motivation. Instead of thinking in terms of titles and transactions (“…if you do this, the Boss will give you that“), Change Leaders should think of their change as a participative transformation (“…together, we will see what needs to be done and agree to work toward achieving shared goals.“).

He lays out five powerful “guiding principles” to frame up the relationship:

  • Keep it simple. (Go back to the basics.)
  • Make results, not excuses. (Get Real and focus on facts.)
  • Control the journey. (Don’t just hope things will work out – define a clear map.)
  • Be a gardener. (Think long-term and focus on growth – at the individual and organizational level.)
  • Lead the whole person. (Lift your people up and encourage them along the way.)

I especially appreciate Duncan’s mention of principles early in his book. It reminds me that establishing this cultural element of leadership should precede any attempt to apply a change process. Having worked with clients on the concept and content of principles has taught me that they take time to get in place – but they are well worth the effort. I’ve really noticed the difference when I’ve worked inside organizations that attempt to “wing it” without clear principles around leadership, culture and behavioral expectations.

Is “Friendly” Too Soft a Term for Business? I was initially a bit skeptical about the term “friendly” being used in a hard core business setting. But after reading Duncan’s full thesis, I understand where he’s coming from. His entire model is based on creating an environment where change is more apt to succeed because organizational leaders employ four “change-friendly” behaviors that he calls “the Four T’s“:

1. Think-Friendly: Build an organizational mindset that encourages curiosity and individual engagement by making it “normal” to consider new ideas rather than allowing the forces of atrophy to hold sway.

2. Talk-Friendly: Expect team members to employ honest dialogue and thoughtful consideration as a part of routine communication. Change Leaders have an especially important role in demonstrating this openness to being influenced by listening with empathy and advocating in a respectful way.

3. Trust-Friendly: Build trust by earning trust, extending it to others and demonstrating trust as individuals and groups. Use trust-builders like limiting jargon, using clear language and tying elements of your message together into a straight-forward narrative.

4. Team-Friendly: Commit to using a collaborative approach to solving problems and implementing new ideas. The author refers to many proven, practical techniques of teamwork such as defining clear roles, recognizing the stages of team growth and reinforcing positive team behaviors over individual recognition.

Now for the Process…  Only after laying down this leadership/behavioral foundation does Duncan close the deal by recommending a clear, seven-step change process that is not necessarily sequential. I particularly like that point.

Experience has shown me that change is rarely accomplished through purely sequential “recipes”. Instead, Change Agents typically have more success by following a generalized process that involves circling back from time to time to verify results and checking that early adopting groups of stakeholders have not slipped back into old patterns.

Below is a summary of his tactical model in a nutshell. Caveat: I would encourage Change Agents to pick up a copy of Change-Friendly Leadership and dig deeply into these steps rather than trust my summation as a “to do list” for their change project.

Validate the Journey  – Make sure you and other leaders are on the same page as you begin a change. I call this “change alignment“.

Scan for Speed Bumps – Conduct an honest assessment of where you may expect resistance to your change. Include this knowledge in the planning process.

Chart the Course. – Lay out a crisp plan that employs six classic “levers” of change.

Build a Coalition. – Include a CAST of characters that include Champions, Agents, Sponsors and Targets as you assemble the team and start to execute the change.

Ford the Streams. – Execute the work of making change happen by focusing on behaviors while working through change activities.

Stay on Message. – Communicate with clarity and adapt messages to the information needs of stakeholder groups. Keep messages simple and framed in context of broader goals.

Mind the Gap. – Continually adapt the previous six steps based on interim results. Look for areas where reinforcement might be needed and encourage people all the way through the finish line.

So There You Have It. Taken as a whole, “Change Friendly Leadership” is a solid, practical book written by a talented, experienced Change Agent. I’d recommend it to sponsors as a great framework for leading change. I would also recommend it to anyone who is stuck in the middle of a failing change as an encouraging reminder that they don’t have to remain silent. They can practice and promote the ideas in this book as a starting point to getting things back on track.


Standard Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for writing this review or allowing Dr. Duncan to write a guest post on  He did send me an advance reading copy of the book.

 Questions for Chatter:

  • What other books have you found useful as a Change Agent?
  • Do you agree with Duncan’s approach of focusing on leadership and behaviors first – before getting into the change process?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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