It all happens on the fringe

I read a blog posting this morning in HBR on ‘Change Leadership‘.  It was basically: “Here are the 10 bullet points you leaders must know on how to affect change below you…”


I’m 41.  I spent the first 15 years of my career being “below”: just doing, trying to get ahead: get promoted, head-down ‘just doing‘; waiting around for the so-called leaders to make change, relying on them, not taking risks – that was too scary for me…  and I would wait around & wait around some more, and then it’s kind of like: S***, we’re in the same mess we were before; nothing’s changed. And for me, it was more than frustrating. And then I would complain, and blame: “It’s their fault.”  “They are the problem.”  It was just a vicious cycle.  And the status quo would prevail.

So, maybe all these experts had it wrong with change and leadership.

Y’all know where I’m coming from on this now… and it was through this accidental project called, ‘Story Leaders’ that changed my perspective. Everyone seems to be an expert on leadership, and everyone has an opinion.  And it seems like everyone is talking to the people at the “top” (our so-called leaders) and we all expect to feel “it” from the top.  We’re even waiting on Election Day to find out which so-called “Leader” is going to affect change.

Screw the top. Its not top down — maybe it never has been, and never will be… maybe it’s bottom-up; the power of one: anyone: maybe it looks more like this: 1 -> 2, 2 -> 4, 4->16, etc., and maybe it’s more like the shifting of a herd of animals (it’s the animal on the outside that senses the prey/threat of the predator, not the pack leader), it’s the shirtless, dancing lone nut on the hill who was first ridiculed, but after the first follower, started a movement… Its all the same stuff.  Anyone can start a movement/can make change happen… if you believe and if you can share the story of why change is needed.

I love Seth Godin….I thought I would share his take on this:

Coming from a loud place

Despite your instincts, almost all big change, almost all important organizations, almost all the stuff that matters doesn’t get launched big, from the loud place, on the front page of the paper or on the Super Bowl or on a popular blog.

No, the stuff that changes everything starts on the fringe, captures the imagination of a dozen, who bring along colleagues or friends, and then it’s a hundred and then…

Make whatever list you want: Twitter, Kiva, 500px, Pure Food and Wine, Jiro… They all became hits without being anointed by the loud folks first.

Instead of cajoling your way into the spotlight, consider investing in the experience first.

And, I cannot get Brene Brown out of my mind (I posted about her last week). When I met her, she reminded me about change:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errors, who comes short again and again.

And when she said that, I was like: “Oh my god, how great is she?!?”   But then she said, “That is not mine, that was from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech: Citizenship in a Republic.

And, if you haven’t seen the Lone Nut clip, the whole story of how a movement happens (i.e. change) unfolds in 3 minutes:…

Just watching this clip, or hearing Brene talk about vulnerability & courage, or reminding myself of Roosevelt’s famous quote, inspires me….  big stuff.

Those on the outside of the pack are the ones that shift the direction of the herd.  The “pack leader” is buffered, protected, safe  in the middle – and rarely see things coming.

Leadership is over-rated. Change doesn’t happen at the top.  It happens on the fringe, by the “ones”.


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Categories: Selling, Story

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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3 Comments on “It all happens on the fringe”

  1. October 1, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Brilliant…thanks for the article and the links.

  2. Greg Miller
    October 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I’ve been alone on the hill at various times in my life and I’ve found it to be a scary – and rewarding – place. Sometimes, I’ve been alone and just tumbled down the hill on my own. Thankfully, each time I was the only person to get hurt. Other times, I’ve started a “movement” of one form or another. And then one day, this made me think – why do I sometimes stumble, while other times I succeed? After reflecting on this for some time, the answer became simply self-evident – every time I succeeded, it was because I truly and deeply believed in my cause. Every time I stumbled, it was because I only sort of believed in the cause and was doing it out of some obligation or because it was my “job.” I know now that I can only affect change if the belief is strong and comes from within…

  3. October 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. Over the years, I’ve learned to detest the term “change management.” Unfortunately, too many of the “change initiatives” I’ve endured have been about imposing the will of “management”. “Change or die.”

    Change really ought to be more like rolling a boulder down a hill. Somewhere on the hill, top or bottom, the rock needs a little push to get it going. It will run on it’s own. Once in a while it needs a little re-directing to keep it from crushing the wrong things.

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