A long time ago on what now seems like a distance planet, many leaders, managers, and consultants spent a lot of time talking about who was moving the cheese. It was the late 90’s and Spencer Johnson had written a book called Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998.
In Board rooms, conferences, seminars, and strategic retreats, executives discussed the four imaginary characters within the book called Sniff who sniffs out change early, Scurry who scurries into action, Hem who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse, and finally Haw who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing leads to something better.
These executives examined the idea from the book that change just happens and thus we should get ready for someone or something to move the cheese. They talked about monitoring change, i.e. “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old,” and the need to adapt to change quickly, i.e. “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.” Finally, they talked about enjoying change, i.e. “Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese,” and how the cheese will just keep moving.
It was an odd time for me with so many people talking about cheese and mice. It was like the Wisconsin Diary Board plus the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had taken over the world of leadership and management education. All were consumed by cheese and mice.
Now, I do like a good piece of cheese and I respect how certain books can become a best-seller, but the core messages within the book were not new or extremely insightful. They were nevertheless well packaged and well marketed so many people referenced them on a regular basis.
While cheese and mice were consuming the world of business in 1998, I had instead designed and was teaching the first From Vision to Action Leadership Training. As part of this early work, participants read Robert E. Staub’s book, The Heart of Leadership: 12 Practices of Courageous Leaders, Executive Excellence Publishing, 1996, where he explained that leadership involved five basic tasks:
- “ensuring that the future is being planned for, anticipate and secured”
- “serving the needs and interests of, and eliciting the support from, key constituencies”
- “keeping the team, organization, or enterprise focused on substantive results while meeting the requirements of current realities”
- “building a long-term, value-added network of relationships”
- “tying it all together strategically”
While very few if any people now talk about mice and cheese in the world of business, the above components of business are explored on a regular basis. The key lesson for us here today is to enjoy best sellers but not to be consumed by them. We instead need to focus on and pay attention to the fundamentals of leadership. For over time and through the world of change, it is the mastery of these key concepts and skill sets that will make a major difference.
This week, enjoy a good slice of cheese, steer clear of mice, and return to the fundamentals. In the short and the long run, this will help you handle change better.
P.S. For those of you who are looking for a good article, I encourage you to read “Cultivate a Culture of Confidence” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, http://hbr.org/2011/04/column-cultivate-a-culture-of-confidence/ar/1. If you like the article, you might also enjoy her most recent blog entry at the Harvard Business Review web site called “Four Reasons Any Action is Better than None,” http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2011/03/four-reasons-any-action-is-bet.html. Happy reading!
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257