Tag Archives: Change

Trump’s Actions Show that Change is Messy

 

The election of 2016 was billed as a “change election.” It is clear now that a large portion of the electorate had reached such a level of frustration and feeling of disconnect with the status quo that they were willing to vote for change – any change. Even though they came from different sides of the political spectrum, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the only presidential candidates to recognize and tap into this powerful undercurrent of the desire for change.

Unfortunately for Sanders, his message of change was blunted by the Democratic National Committee that had effectively rigged the party nomination in favor of an establishment status quo candidate. On the other hand, Trump benefited from the fact that, while the Republican National Committee favored establishment candidates, a gaggle of 15 other candidates diffused the establishment support. This allowed disaffected Republican voters to coalesce around Trump’s message of change. Even though Trump never received a majority of Republican primary votes, the concentration of voters driven by the desire for change pushed him to the nomination.

The same phenomenon (plus a little help from Russia) also impacted the general election. Even though Trump and his message of change failed to garner a majority of the popular vote, he was able to cobble together enough disaffected voters to flip a number of traditionally establishment Democratic states in order to win the majority of Electoral College votes (the votes that really count) and win the presidency. Much to the chagrin of the bulwarks of the government establishment status quo – the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties and the national media.

Learning the Lessons of Change Management

As president, Trump is now challenged to live up to his promise to be a change agent. He is quickly learning the lesson that any person in a position of leadership who seeks to bring about change must understand: Change is not something that is simply announced, it has to be created.

Change has two natural enemies: Those who resist change and those are frustrated by the status quo, but fear what change will bring. Those who are comfortable with the way things are and view change as a threat to be resisted. For them, change is the answer to a question they never asked. Ironically, those who most vociferously call for real change can become fearful of change when the answer to what change means is not clearly answered. As a result, change, no matter how beneficial it may ultimately be, is always difficult to implement and accept. And change becomes downright messy and chaotic when what is to replace the status quo is muddled or nonexistent.

Real change is about being positive, not negative …

For a leader to be a successful change agent, it is critical for them to shift the focus off the desire for change itself and focus on the benefits that will be derived from change. In other words, for followers to accept change, the debate should not center on what they are losing, but on what they can gain from the change. If that does not happen, change will be stillborn.

A good example of this change dynamic at work is the current debate over Obamacare. From its inception, the majority of Americans have had a negative opinion of the program. The Republicans seized on the unpopularity of Obamacare to promise that if given the power to act, they would “repeal and replace” it. Likewise, during the campaign Trump railed against Obamacare and promised that his first act as president (right after tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement) would be to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But now with the Republicans in full control of the government, the effort to deliver on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare has become, at best, messy and chaotic. Even the Republicans are fighting among themselves as to how to implement this change. There is no clear, coordinated plan being offered by Trump or the Republicans; despite the fact that they have had years to develop one.

As a result of this befuddling Republican approach to change, even those who disapprove of Obamacare have begun to have second thoughts. For the first time in years, public opinion polls have shifted and more people approve of Obamacare, than oppose it.  

Why is it that even those who were demanding change (and voted for it) are now uneasy with change? The problem is – and this is a great lesson for any leader to learn – that by simply announcing the intent to repeal Obamacare and not coupling it with a clear plan for going forward, Trump and the Republican leaders have allowed people to focus on what they will be losing (as bad as it may be) rather than on what they will gain by a new approach to healthcare. 

What Trump and the Republican leaders are missing in their effort to implement the promised change (not only for Obamacare, but other issues as well) is the understanding that while people may be frustrated with the status quo and claim to want change, they are even more fearful of an uncertain future. As a result, there is nothing but confusion, frustration and fear of what the change will bring.

Again, the key to effective change management is for the leader to focus on where they are going, rather than where they have been. No matter how much people may protest against the status quo, unless they clearly understand the benefits of the proposed change, they will resist the change.

For example, Trump and the Republican leaders could have said something like, “We are going to repeal Obama care and replace it with an expanded Medicare system that would be available and cover all Americans.” By offering an alternative to the status quo, rather than simply attacking it, leaders can marshal support needed to make change positive.

Living with change …

There is a good lesson here for anyone who seeks to implement change in an organization. No matter how passionate people may be about seeking change and especially for those who do not recognize the need for change, the best approach for gaining acceptance of change is to debate the future, not the past. It is the duty of the leader to paint that future and explain the benefits to those who will live it. Only that way will real change come about.

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Raucous Republican Campaign is a Teachable Moment for Change

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When the Republicans lost the easily winnable 2012 presidential election there was a palpable sense of despair among the party’s established leaders. And rightly so, as the Party had lost six of the past eight presidential elections, voters who identified themselves as Republicans were both aging and declining in number, and the increasingly powerful force of minorities and diversity were rejecting the tenets of the Republican Party.

After the 2012 election the Republicans called together a large group of their leaders for a series of meetings and seminars intended to identify the problems and seek solutions. The good news is that the out of these meetings came a laundry-list of ideas, changes and positions the party needed to adopt in order to appeal to a rapidly changing electorate. The bad news that nothing happened, because the Republican leaders involved in this process had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Many aligned with the status quo resist change, not because they fail to recognize new ideas, but because they fail to recognize old ideas. One of the things the Republican establishment has going for it is that commitment to the status quo does shelter them from the challenge of coming up with new ideas.

As a result, the Republicans, who do control Congress, have come to be seen as a force for obstruction, deadlock and dysfunction in government. Causing the Republicans to be seen as focused more on what they oppose rather than what they propose. And this has compounded the challenge of relevance for the Republican Party.

If anything, the Republican Party has become even more entrenched in its support of the status quo. As evidence of this, at the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle, Jeb Bush – a scion of the establishment – was put forward as the favored establishment candidate. And we all know how that went over.

What the Republican Party did change after the 2012 presidential election was the process by which the Party nominee is selected; but it did not implement the substantive policy changes needed to elect a president. The Republican National Committee (RNC) made it easier – by putting the “winner take all” primaries in the latter stages of the nominating process – for the presumed establishment candidate (Jeb Bush) to lockup the nomination and block the efforts of outsiders. What the RNC did not anticipate was the frustration of the broader base of Republican voters toward the status quo. The new rules have ended up working against the intentions of the establishment, because the RNC did not foresee that an outsider (Trump) would secure the early delegate lead. As a result, this makes it virtually impossible for any establishment (acceptable) candidate to secure the nomination before the convention. And it has put the establishment in panic mode.

That is why we are now seeing so much rancor, acrimony, bitterness and indeed panic by the Republican establishment toward Trump. The current strategy of the RNC establishment is not to rally behind their leading candidate, but to marshal as many resources as possible to prevent Trump from securing a majority of delegates before the convention. The goal is to create a “contested convention” that will allow the establishment to select its own candidate; even though it may go against the majority of Republican voters. The stated fear is that Trump is simply not electable. But the real fear is that if Trump is nominated, he will bring about real change and the creation of a new establishment.

The last time the Republicans went through this type of party-fracturing battle was in 1980. At that time the Republican Party felt the leading candidate in the nomination process was not a “true” Republican and that he did not have the intelligence, temperament or qualifications to be president; and most of all that he was unelectable. The Republicans did all they could to block his nomination; even to the point of encouraging the previous (defeated) nominee to come out of retirement as an alternative candidate. The candidate the Republican establishment was attempting to block from achieving the nomination was Ronald Reagan. Wouldn’t it be an intriguing irony if the RNC establishment fails to block the nomination of Trump and then he goes on to win the election?

When you sweep away all the extraneous activity that is happening in this campaign, the reality is that the Republican establishment – like any entrenched establishment – is more fearful of change than it is of losing.

Teaching Moment For Change

Observing the convulsions in the Republican Party is a great lesson in how change comes about – or doesn’t.

When it comes to change, people have to recognize that change itself is not the threat. The threat comes from the failure to recognize the need for change and then failing to respond to it in a positive way. Contentment with the established way of thinking and acting is the primary disincentive to recognizing and responding to change.

Change needs a catalyst – a change-agent – who can identify the frustrations of a failing status quo and be far enough out ahead to make defenders of the status quo uncomfortable; forcing them to face the issue of change. When those who need to change do not feel threatened by the proposed change, it is not a change. If the one seeking change is not finding their ideas being attacked and resisted, they are not far enough out from to bring about change.

Those seeking to be a change-agent must recognize that daring to think and act contrary to established ways exposes them to risks of ridicule and rejection, but they also understand that the rewards for success far outweigh the threat of recrimination from peers.

In the last 50 years, the Republican Party has had two agents of change – Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. One of them lost and one of them won, but both of them brought about change. The Republicans are now dealing with another change-agent in their midst – Donald Trump. The establishment of the Republican Party is just as vociferous – if not more so – in their attacks on Trump as they were on Goldwater and Reagan. It is yet to be determined if Trump will win (or even if he should), but one thing is certain, he will bring about change.

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