Sunday, 10 January 2010

Viral Change (TM) is good leadership in action

Continuing my series on Viral ChangeTM, I wanted to consider the role of leadership in the process of such a cultural change programme.

The Leadership Paradigm
Firstly we need to unpick our paradigms of leadership. When you hear the word – leadership –what immediately comes into your mind? What do you see, hear or feel? For most of us, if we are honest, we see person(s) in some position of authority who are directing, controlling and guiding the organisation. If we are Gen-Xers rather than baby-boomers (and I do recognise that I am guilty of generalising here) we perhaps see these people as ‘enablers’ too.

So what is leadership? It is a word that has become a generalisation or rather, a nominalisation. This means that what is actually a process word, which implies movement and doing, has been turned into a fixed form of a noun. This is a lazy way for our brains to give a label to what is actually a complex process. But in so doing, our language forms our reality and this means that we over simplify and miss the deeper meaning of ‘leadership’ or rather the process of leading.

Who’s the Leader?
How many of those lucky people designated as ‘leaders’ are now rallying for more example of leadership from the ranks? How many claim that ‘everyone is a leader’. Yet as Mike Cook says in his recent blog post; how many of them actually mean that they want to see more ‘do as I want you to-ship’.

Now, you already know that Viral ChangeTM is not linear, mechanistic, top down change but organic and spread through peer to peer networks. Of course, different challenges and contexts require different processes for leading but at its very heart leadership is done through example: being the change you want to see (to quote Gandhi). And, as Warren Bennis says “Letting the self emerge is the essential task of leaders”.

Do you notice two key words here:
• Being
• Letting (or allowing)

How many of us do you think truly understand, yet alone embody, the concept of leadership as ‘being’ as opposed to ‘doing’ and ‘allowing’ rather than ‘directing/controlling’?

And this is exactly why Viral ChangeTM is the process of leadership in action! And it is also why many leaders are actually VERY uncomfortable with the whole idea of Viral ChangeTM and certainly what presents itself as the main challenge for leaders undertaking a Viral ChangeTM project.

The true leaders in Viral ChangeTM are the employees ‘chosen’ to be the change catalysts. As leaders they need to be ‘allowed’ to influence change in their peer networks, to challenge the status quo and to rally action. Essentially they become the change that you want to see in your organisation.

So what do the ‘traditional’ leadership (senior management, CEO etc)have to do to ‘allow’ this to happen:

• They need to live and breathe the non-negotiable behaviours – they are examplars and it will all flounder if they don’t ‘walk the talk’
• They need to learn to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable
• They need to put mechanisms in place to allow the new leaders – certainly at first this means overt support mechanisms to nurture and support the change catalysts
• They need to be seen to be supporting them
• They need to proactively reap the fruits of the change that the new leaders achieve – for example have ways of solidifying and reinforcing new processes and ideas

In short, they need to let go and notice how, in such letting go, how change is allowed to happen!

Further reading

1. HBR, How Gen X Leads

Friday, 8 January 2010


Dr Herrero has been invited to attend and provide a keynote speech at Worldwork's MANAGING CHANGE ACROSS CULTURES INTERNATIONAL CONSULTANTS’ WORKSHOP at the The Moller Centre, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, Storey’s Way, Cambridge CB3 ODE Cambridge, UK, 15th-16th January 2010.

Research shows that the success rate of change initiatives, even in mono-cultural environments, is very low. Global organisations often look for support from consultants and facilitators to guide them in the even more complex task of managing change in a cross-cultural context.How can we help ensure that changes such as the global roll out of processes or the worldwide diffusion of innovation can occur with a higher degree of success?This workshop is aimed at internationally oriented consultants, trainers, MBA faculty and facilitators who want to offer effective tools and approaches for their clients in the area change management. The focus will be on managing change in a Western/Chinese context but the process is designed to build awareness and skills in managing the factors in any cross-border change process.The two-day workshop will bring together a unique blend of talents and tools for participants to explore, at first hand, cutting-edge approaches, role-plays, mini-cases and computer based simulations by the authors themselves.The workshop will include:Experiencing a full session of the LingHe computer simulation and learning how to optimise it’s use in a variety of developmental contexts connected to managing change across culturesExperimenting with role-plays designed to explore the behavioural factors necessary to build trust and influence key change agents at a local levelHow to use mini-case studies to stimulate understanding of alternative strategies in dealing with the challenges of introducing change across cultures.An overview of the Viral ChangeTM approach developed by the book’s author and change guru Leandro Herrero. Clear links will be made between Leandro’s approach and the change algorithms used in LingHe.This workshop launches the distribution of LingHe within the WorldWork network for which we have negotiated special rates for it’s use by all participants attending.David Trickey, WorldWork’s New Product Development Director is at present working on a large scale cultural change process with Leandro Herrero, and both David and Nigel have delivered workshops with Prof. Albert Angehrn for organisations such as IKEA, Fiat, IVECO and The Scottish Government.If you would like to book a place or have further information please write to