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  • Win People Over Rather Than Win Over People

I am fortunate to work with students. I do so in the form of instructing and coaching them on key Transformational Leadership principles.

Which brings me to an HBR article written at the start of the 21st century and titled: Radical change, the quiet way. Author Debra E. Meyerson made the argument that “if you want to push important cultural changes through your organization without damaging your career, step softly.” She provided four techniques used by folks she described as Tempered Radicals. I used two of these strategies to help shape this month’s Thrive! theme: Win people over rather than win over people.

DISRUPTIVE SELF-EXPRESSION is the first strategy put forward as a way to achieve radical change, quietly. The idea behind this strategy is for an individual to model the behaviour they wish to see embraced by others. Or, as Ghandi puts it, be the change you want to see. To win over his employees, a CEO with whom I worked for a number of years, embraced the change he wanted to see in his organization. His dress code was business casual, nothing flashy. He took this further. He asked his people to call him by his first name. At a glance, neither of these two actions would appear to be significant. Over time, the result was a flattening of the organizational hierarchy and the resultant bureaucracy that comes from being in organizations that are steeped in authority and positions.

Disruptive self-expression can come from anyone, any where in the organization. The example used was of an employee who chose to wear her hair in corn rows. When asked by her boss to loosen her hair to ensure she looked professional for an upcoming business presentation to an important client; the employee, though upset by this request, said nothing. She simply did not comply. She showed up with her corn rows. Did a spectacular presentation which landed the client. It was after cinching the client she took her boss aside and respectfully remind him that her hair in its natural form is a reflection of her culture and heritage-which she happens to like. And by the way, “my hairstyle has nothing to do with my ability to do my job.”

My students are very excited and eager to participate in the classes. So much so, sometimes a female student will respond to a question to which a male student would take the very same comment and present it as his own. I am deeply aware of cultural issues around gender and how those who identify as females can sometimes not get heard by their male colleagues. When this happens, I listen to what the male student/employee has obviously appropriated from his female colleague. When he is done, I acknowledge him for recognizing what his female colleague had shared, I would then turn to his colleague and ask, “Simarjeet Kaur, has Greg captured your point fully?”

Meyerson in her article refers to my above strategy as VERBAL JIUJITSU. Its principles are steeped in the martial arts, wherein one takes an incoming force at them and redirect it to change the situation.

This month, as we wrap up the celebration of African heritage month (aka black history month), It is encouraging to see so many more organizations acknowledging the contributions of Canadians of African heritage. Debra E. Meyerson sums this up rather poignantly:

“…tempered radicals understand revolutionary change for what it is-a phenomenon that can

occur suddenly but more often than not requires time, commitment, and the patience to endure.”

Phyllis Reid-Jarvis, MPH, PCC, CEO at Ultimate Potentials

Key Points: 

  • Win people over rather than win over people
  • Express what you stand for in ways that are authentically you
  • Change sticks when we tread softly, quietly and with tiny steps
  • 21st century leaders do best when armed with the skills of ‘verbal jujitsu’

yourturn win ppl over2


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