Change Leader - Michael Fullan

In Change Leader, Michael Fullan lays out the theories involved in helping people in an organization move to accept change. He does this in an interesting way. First he insists that just about all books on management are useless and often directly conflict each other. Then he indicates that we should read THIS book for the real answer :) I have to say I find that approach a bit suspect, especially since many other books claim the same thing.

What Fullan is getting at is that external knowledge is rarely the most helpful kind. The way we humans learn best is to simply try something and see what works for us. We then learn from our mistakes, pay attention to where things went well, and tweak along the way. As part of this process we need to have empathy for those who disagree with us, model the values we want to see in others, and be both persistent and patient.

We should watch our OWN world for small examples of "deviant" success and then build up on these. Mistakes are natural and expected, learn and grow from them.

This is lovely advice, but what if you work at a bank and are new there? Is he really saying to experiment with ideas, not to worry too much about people losing their savings or jumping ship, and just see what happens? Part of why people read management books is to try to AVOID some of the easily avoided mistakes and benefit from others who have gone before. For example, if I'm traveling to a Muslim country where they will think me outrageously bad mannered if I offer my left hand to shake theirs, wouldn't I want to know that beforehand? Do I really need to learn some of these things through trial and error, if the errors can substantially harm my progress?

I do agree with much of what he says. People must have a purpose, capacity to enjoy improving, autonomy, and camaraderie to be happy in most job situations. A manager should help them build valuable experience in non-threatening situations so they can increase their self confidence for the more challenging times. But then Fullman doesn't give that same benefit to the readers of his books. Us readers, he wants to avoid reading all other books and just dive into situations untutored.

I agree with Fullman that we tend to learn best by doing (even if we fail along the way) vs reading about it in a book. And yes it's a lovely ideal. But there are many times when it's important to read and understand the basics before trying. I'd rather read about how to do CPR first rather than be confronted with a dying person and do my first trial case with the person on the ground.

It's hard to resist when he says that the brain is like a muscle that strengthens with use, so we should polish and work on it daily. He recommends meditation and visualization as techniques that can be quite helpful. I agree with much of his foundation.

If he hadn't tried to repeatedly say to ignore books other than his own, and to just jump almost haphazardly into doing tasks without researching them, then I would have given this five stars. I think he's trying to shake people out of the inertia of reading-reading-reading and never doing. However I feel he went too far in the other direction. Somewhere in the middle is a happy balance where you read enough to get your grounding, then you launch with focus into your task and do your best. You accept your mistakes, learn from them, and get even better.

I was sent a free copy of this book to review via the Amazon vine program.

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