Three Pillars of Sustainable Change: Empathy, Trust and Patience

Change and change man­age­ment was yes­ter­day. Today we are doing trans­for­ma­tions. A dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion for busi­ness mod­els, because data is the new oil. An agile trans­for­ma­tion for the orga­ni­za­tion and its process­es, because flex­i­bil­i­ty and speed are essen­tial in times of great uncer­tain­ty. Unfor­tu­nate­ly often only the name has changed and where it is labelled with trans­for­ma­tion it actu­al­ly con­tains very tra­di­tion­al — and very tay­loris­tic — change man­age­ment. That’s why panaceas and blue­prints are on the rise: sim­ply intro­duce LeSS or SAFe or copy Spo­ti­fy and call this your agile trans­for­ma­tion. How­ev­er, this com­plete­ly ignores the nature of a trans­for­ma­tion as a nat­ur­al devel­op­ment process of a com­plex sys­tem in favor of a pat­tern that has so far only worked rea­son­ably well, but is at least well-known and appears well man­age­able: sim­ply trans­form­ing the orga­ni­za­tion and the peo­ple in it like a com­pli­cat­ed machine. Accom­pa­nied, of course, by all kinds of “change the­atre”, because some­how you have to win the peo­ple. A suc­cess­ful trans­for­ma­tion that deserves this name, how­ev­er, is based on visions instead of blue­prints. Ide­al­ly, it is sup­port­ed by all and led with empa­thy, trust and patience.


Peo­ple don’t resist change. They resist being changed!
Peter Sen­ge

No mat­ter how dig­i­tal the trans­for­ma­tion may seem, at its core it is always about peo­ple. The peo­ple there­fore have to be at the cen­tre of every trans­for­ma­tion. The peo­ple as humans with their tal­ents, hopes and fears and not the peo­ple as means of pro­duc­tion and cogs in a machine-like orga­ni­za­tion. This is pre­cise­ly why the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship was cre­at­ed as sum­ma­ry of the new role of lead­er­ship in times of trans­for­ma­tion. And it is no coin­ci­dence that it focus­es on people.

Lead­er­ship begins with self-lead­er­ship and self-aware­ness: Only those who can lead them­selves can lead oth­ers. This is the basis for true empa­thy, i.e. the abil­i­ty and will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize and under­stand the feel­ings, thoughts, emo­tions, motives and per­son­al­i­ty traits of anoth­er per­son.. With­out empa­thy, every trans­for­ma­tion remains a cold and soul­less change the­atre, cel­e­brat­ed to make the trans­for­ma­tion of the orga­ni­za­tion­al machin­ery more tol­er­a­ble for the affect­ed cogwheels.


Trust is an oasis of the heart that is nev­er reached by the car­a­van of thought.
Khalil Gibran

In essence, every trans­for­ma­tion is a jour­ney with an uncer­tain out­come. The vision of dig­i­tal busi­ness mod­els or an agile orga­ni­za­tion or both is the North star and points the way. The What and How, how­ev­er, must first be explored and tried out in detail. And for this, it does not require a few man­agers but rather the wis­dom, expe­ri­ence and cre­ativ­i­ty of all those affect­ed. It is all about encour­ag­ing curios­i­ty, courage and cre­ativ­i­ty. It’s about let­ting your­self be sur­prised. And it is about endur­ing fail­ures and learn­ing togeth­er. All this is based on trust. You have to trust in peo­ple’s moti­va­tion and potential.


Rush is the oppo­site of patience: impa­tient­ly it seeks to accel­er­ate what actu­al­ly takes its time.
Jür­gen Dahl

In our econ­o­my, which is so focused on short-term fig­ures and suc­cess, we have some­what lost the virtue of patience. On the oth­er hand, every­thing takes time and nat­ur­al process­es in par­tic­u­lar can­not be accel­er­at­ed: Nine women can’ t deliv­er a baby in a month using the pic­ture from Fred Brook’s mag­nif­i­cent book “The Myth­i­cal Man-Month”. And toma­toes don’t grow faster if a man­ag­er super­vis­es and moti­vates them. Every­thing takes time. This triv­ial insight marks the begin­ning of every sus­tain­able trans­for­ma­tion. There are no abbre­vi­a­tions, panaceas or blue­prints. The key to a suc­cess­ful trans­for­ma­tion is to with­stand the pres­sure to deliv­er short-term suc­cess and to empa­thet­i­cal­ly and con­fi­dent­ly give peo­ple the space and time to learn and grow together.

Stop try­ing to bor­row wis­dom and think for your­self. Face your dif­fi­cul­ties and think and think and think and solve your prob­lems your­self. Suf­fer­ing and dif­fi­cul­ties pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to become bet­ter. Suc­cess is nev­er giv­ing up.
Tai­ichi Ohno

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