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BIG THINKER
“We earn our CIO title not by demanding authority, but by taking responsibility.”
Seth Godin, best-selling business author and entrepreneur
How to be a leader of transformational change
Image: Catalina Kulczar
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How to be a leader of transformational change

October 2013

IT leaders often fall short in the art of persuasion. To win over colleagues and enact impactful business change, they need to go beyond a reliance on data and start telling stories that fire the imagination, says Seth Godin.

We are taught in engineering school to bring facts to the table. Facts are proof, proof that there are right answers. And if you present sufficient evidence to people, they will agree with you and accept your data as the truth.

But this is nonsense. This is not how real people decide in the real world. It’s not how people buy a car, how they buy a bottle of wine, and it’s not how they pick a corporate strategy. The way human beings make decisions is with stories. We hear a story, a story that matches our worldview, a story that’s grounded in things we already believe, and then we internalize that story, imagine ourselves inhabiting a future where that story exists and we can embrace it.

So if you think about the creation myth of Amazon; Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie driving across the entire US with a laptop, building the company.  There was nothing pitched to investors about how many people in the world had Internet access. There was nothing pitched about what would happen in this warehouse or that warehouse.  It was a three-sentence story sufficient to get enough people to embrace it.

If you want to enact change, your job isn’t to present evidence; your job is to tell a story, a story that resonates, a story that spreads and a story that is true. So what we have to do in our role as people who want to make change is to look for the stories, look for the things that we can thread together to create a narrative that resonates with the people we’re trying to change.The right to innovate

The second thing to realize is that a lot of us are walking around saying: “I’d love to do this great thing but my boss won’t let me.” What an epic cop out. It’s a cop out because basically what we’re saying to the boss is “I want to do this crazy thing, and if it works I’ll get all the credit, but if it doesn't work you’ll get all the blame because you gave me permission.”

What boss would take that deal? That’s a lousy deal. The way we actually make change happen in organizations is not by going to the boss and saying: “Please take responsibility for my innovation.” You must take responsibility.

 There’s unlimited opportunity in organizations to take responsibility. You might not get authority, but you can take responsibility, and once you have it, you can be innovative and put things into the world. You’re not going to get fired, and when something works you give your boss credit, and when something works again, you give her credit again. And sooner or later they are going to say: “Do that again!” and that creates a cycle of change. The way we earn our CIO title is not by demanding authority; we earn it by taking responsibility.

First published
October 2013
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About: Seth Godin
Entrepreneur, blogger and the author of more than a dozen business bestsellers, Seth Godin is a global authority on leadership, business transformation and marketing strategy in a digital age.

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