Indeed, as I have studied, read, watched, and practiced leadership and change initiatives for over two decades, I am always intrigued at the role of the change agent.
Certainly, it is hard to be a change agent for so many reasons. It is hard to change yourself let alone to get others to change. It is hard to exist in an environment where you see new and different possibilities, but others see only their way or the highway. It is hard to see others jockey for power and revel in the humiliation and shame of their peers. Change is only for the strong-hearted.
It’s interesting to me that change agents are often alone in the enterprise. They are specifically brought in fix highly ingrained problems that very often culturally rooted and that are damaging to the continuing maturation and success of the enterprise. But the change agent is coming in with “fresh eyes” and accompanying toolkit of best practices from outside the insular dynamics of the dysfunctional organization.
But the change agent is alone, or relatively so as they may be others who are “bucking the trend,” to try to bring a new openness and flexibility to the stagnant corporate culture and decaying ways of doing business that descend like death over complacent or arrogant organizations that think that once on top of the world, always on top.
Applause to the organizational leaders who are aware of processes, products, and ways of thinking that are broken and recognize the need for change and attract the agents of change and agility.
But the change agents run against the tide. They are new and are viewed as not knowing anything about the organization. Moreover, they are perceived as a danger to the comfortable long-standing held beliefs and ways of doing things. And moreover, they are seen as a threat to the incumbents. So from the incumbents perch, the change agents need to be shamed, humiliated, thwarted at almost any cost. And the change resisters in the established hierarchy “revel” in every obstacle they throw up.
There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, 21-22 March 2009 about a website where people “revel in each other’s humiliation.”
The French site www.viedemerde.fr has 70,000 readers and it has “become a phenomenon in France…it receives a thousand or so new stories a day from which three young men who run it pick a dozen or so to post…the site now has 7,200 vignettes picked from nearly 400,000 sent in.”
It started a couple of years ago by the founder who “started posting stories online about the frustrations of modern life.”
The stories of life difficulty that are shared and read by others is closely aligned with Schadenfreude, a German word which means “One’s person’s misfortune is another’s happiness.” Or another version for the popularity of the site is that “one person’s misfortunes reassure another.”
Whichever explanation you adhere to for the popularity of people posting and reading about other people’s misfortunes and shame, points to people’s need to open up and release thoughts and feeling that are shameful and painful; people have a need to share, commiserate, and gain acceptance and to know that they are not alone.
Now there is an English language version of the popular website www.fmylife.com and “stories are flooding in. But the content is often similar. ‘It’s like there is a kind of solidarity among all countries when it comes to misfortune. We are all in a big, international pile of crap—but we’re in it together.”
The enterprise, its diehard stalwarts, and the change agents are also in it together. And they will either sink or swim. Hopefully, they decide on the latter.