# 344: Transformation from the Right Place


Goleman, Daniel (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, 255.

Story behind the Passage

The title might not sound like the most telling one ever. After all, I am the one always preaching that “right” and “wrong” are relative evaluations. But just calling the post “Transformation” would have been insufficient. If there is one thing I have learned throughout all these years now, especially the last three years as an entrepreneur, it is that the position you have matters. And it does not matter just for your bank account or some name tag on your office door. No, it matters because you will not be able to transform systems, i.e., companies or other organizations, if you are not sitting in the right spot. This is something I completely underestimated before. I knew it but I had not deeply understood. Yes, I knew that leadership positions matter because you have a larger sphere of influence. But I had no idea how relevant it is to not just lead but lead in the right place.

As always, the words I am using here can hardly convey the depth that I personally attribute to this finding. Being quite a political and pragmatic mind, I always thought that “change from the bottom” makes sense and is possible. I am not saying that this is not true at all. The point is, and this is something that I had not noticed that clearly: Time is crucial. And this time, I am not talking about patience, as I have at other occasions. Yes, you will still need patience, even at the very top. But it does matter if you are a firefighter and you are at the scene when the house is burning or you are “just” a neighbor and the only thing you can do is watch, call the firefighters, and pray that everything will work out somehow.

As this simple example shows: Both people, the neighbor and the firefighter, help in one way or the other, but only the firefighters can save the house or, at least, the lives of those inside — in this particular moment. There is a difference here when it comes to impact. And it is the same thing when transforming orgnizations. You might be the most knowledgeable person on a topic but if you have a position in which people do not listen to you because you cannot make decisions that have impact, your knowledge is worth: 0. Yes, you can march and talk and draw attention to the matter and this can have positive impact with respect to changing the status quo. But to be honest:

I do not have time for this anymore!

My Learnings

“Great leaders do not settle for systems as they are, but see what they could become, and so work to transform them for the better, to benefit the widest circle.” This passage, and this sentence, obviously, is from the book Focus. Somehow, I cannot believe I did not write about this book before. Again, maybe it simply escaped my mind and I did not put the book on my blogging book pile but still wrote about it in one of the previous 343 posts. In any case, as every person in business knows, focus is one of the essential — if not the most essential — things that will make you successful. It does not even have to be related to strategic issues. Focus, be it in a single moment or on a big goal, is the key requirement to achieving it.

Even though I knew this, I never thought about focus in the context of transformation before. Or I did but not consciously. Now I do so because I became aware of how much this topic of change constantly drives me. And despite the fact that we all know that everything is constantly changing, there is a need to actively steer a transformation. There are two simple reasons for this which are evidence-related: 1) Best practice examples: Look at the digital transformation, for example. Yes, new technology is launched on a daily basis but other countries made decisions based on knowing this. Germany missed the train. 2) Human history: Going back to ancient times, you notice that people discovered that just going to war without a plan will not make you successful. Yes, there are always exceptions but we would be going back to the stone age if we gave up our ability to observe phenomena and derive conclusions for the future, may they be as vague as they naturally are.

This might sound like going nowhere because I am just repeating the basics of strategy development. But it is essential to remember this when thinking of your own role when you are at the top. With every skill you gain and the better you become, you are also able to handle more “small” things. You are able to manage stress better and you are able to get more done. But this is where the “focus” alarm needs to start ringing: your job is to take care of the big issues. And the biggest one is transformation itself. So, as soon as you notice you are not working on this, you are off track — you have lost focus even though you are working all the time and it might even look successful. In other words: you might be in the right position but you are using your time and influence in the wrong way.

You see me writing with some passion here here because I am quite sick of seeing that things are not moving forward in essential parts of our society. And the thing that I just noticed too late is that this stagnation indeed goes back to people who do not manage the transformation properly. Even worse, they do not manage at all. And since they are surrounded by people who have no idea how to spell “manage,” nobody notices it. The people who are capable of really moving things have long given up on even dealing with these non-leaders. So, in the end, nobody notices how much time and how many resources are being wasted, unless some worst-case scenario such as Afghanistan pops up.

It is high time to focus on my biggest strength from the past again: focus.

Some people will be scared by this.

For me, it feels like coming home after a long journey.

It was a nice journey.

It was necessary.

But every vacation needs to end at some point.

My note to myself on the dedication page of the book. I just discovered it when searching for the publication date. I remember now that I bought the book at the airport and wrote this right before take off.

Reflection Questions

1) What is your focus in life right now?

2) Are you a leader? Why/not?

3) What kind of transformation are you most actively involved in? Are there positions which would allow you to have more impact on the outcome(s)?