‘You Cannot Handle Rapid Change Like You Handle The Status Quo’

DYNAMIC times necessitate dynamic strategies, yet too many people cling to the basic premises and skills of the comfortable past while they are dragged forcibly into the volatile twenty-first century . . . Common sense tells us that we can’t handle rapid change the same way we handle the status quo. Yet, people keep looking for stable, orderly, predictable methods by which to cope with crises and unpredictable change.

These statements are startling for its simplicity and truth. It accurately describes the predicament and predisposition of most people today caught in the whirlpool of global change.

People are frequently shocked at one upheaval or another whether in the field of politics, business, morality or society in general though it is the nature of the world and life itself to be always in a flux of transformation.

With these statements, William McBoast, in his book “Masters of Change,” gives the reader a reality check on the world of change how to view change and how to lead in times of change. For leaders in business, politics and other arenas, Boast’s book provides an unorthodox approach to leadership development.

‘Masters of Change’

Boast believes that great leaders are great because they have mastered being “masters of change” and that more can be leaned about leadership in the characteristic of leaders rather in the methods which leaders employ the lead.

Simply put, what’s crucial is not how the “how-to’s” but the “who-to’s.” Boast writes: “No ‘how-to’ or methodology can consistently help us master dynamic conditions. Constant shifts in the marketplace negate tried-and-true formulas, and once-successful paradigms suddenly sabotage any ability to anticipate market directions. Success with the dynamics can only be achieved in the ‘who-to’. . . You can have two people looking at the same world, applying the same methodology, but because they begin from different premises with different attributes of character, one succeeds and the other fails.

To price this point, he narrates how Napoleon won the pate of Jena in 1807. According to Napoleon, if Frederick the Great, who had been dead for 20 years, been alive at the time of that battle, Napoleon would have lost the battle. For Frederick would have fought Napoleon in a way that would match the enemy’s strategy rather than fighting him in the way his Prussian generals fought, sticking to Frederick’s old strategies which were no longer applicable.

This emphasis on the leader rather than on his management style of methods differs radically from the prevailing technology-orientation of management development. With the increasing specialization of management functions, the focus is more on enhancing sets of managerial skills or transferring “technologies” in managing. For Boast, it is not these technologies or skills that matter but rather the character of leaders, which can be a combination of personality and values.

Qualities of a Leader

With this concept in mind, Boast draws interesting insights from his intimate knowledge of 99 leaders from various ages in man’s history and across the world to determine the personal characteristics that enable them to thrive in their respective turbulent times.

Boast identifies 11 major characteristics of leaders who are masters of change. He considers these characteristics as wither inherent or acquired. They include comfort in ambiguity, productive inconsistency, intuition and instinct, vision and values, creativity, the ability to seek solutions instead of blame, potential for grown, logic and other tools of the mind, high energy, and the effective use of models in learning.

Comfort in Ambiguity

Boast defines comfort in ambiguity as the ability of the leader to work effectively in disorder. He says high achievers find opportunities in chaos while low achievers find failures in challenges. Boast also believes that leaders also need to be inconsistent. He states that a characteristic of failing managers is their consistency they apply the same solution to different problems.

Intuition and instinct, an ability that’s given less value in this information age, is something, according to the author, that distinguishes a master of change from other leaders. Boast contends that a person will never have complete information about a certain matter. Thus, the ability of the leader to make decisions based on gut feel rather than certainty distinguishes him from other mediocre leaders.

The author quotes Alfred Sloan who stated that the key to success in management does not lie in one’s ability to adjust to change but rather in the ability to anticipate change. For Boast, anticipating means intuition and instinct.

Solutions, Not Blame

Boast writes that “. . . a person’s ability to seek solutions rather than blame stands out as a mark of the ‘invulnerable’.” He considers leaders who seek the blame when situations go awry as “victims” who think that the cause of the problems lie outside of themselves. On the other hand, high achievers are those who are “field independent” or go through life seeking success despite conditions surrounding them.

Leaders who “hunger for power” are also effective leaders according to Boast. It is not power itself that is bad, the author argues. Bad leaders hungering for power make bad societies; but good leaders hungering for power make good societies. For those who believe in the oft-repeated quote that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, these statements of the author may provoke debate.

Study in Contrasts

Boast’s book is a study in contrasts. While hammering on the need to master change to face the challenges of the future, the book cites as models leaders of past ages, rather than later ones. While criticizing methods, it provides models for leadership. While stating that changes also change, it claims that the qualities of those who deal with change can be applied to future situations.

Boast’s book is at the same time unorthodox and traditional. It goes against the grain of current management thinking but espouses concepts (such as humanism) that were introduced much earlier. Boast’s book reveals the author as from the “old school,” conservative, but at the same time, radical in bucking trends.

Boasts has devoted 35 years of work studying great leaders. Perhaps, this wealth of experience of a man living in the 21st century explains his “novel” but “old” perspective on how to master the challenges of the coming millennium.

Masters of Change: How Great Leaders in Every Age Thrived in Turbulent Times
by William M. Boast, Ph.D. With Benjamin Martin Executive Excellence Publishing,
Utah, USA 1997, 168 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer October 5, 1998.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu

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