Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bono on Change: Value, Commitment, Transformation

(Rear Adm. Raquel Cruz Bono served as Command Surgeon J07, U.S. Pacific Command. This summer she was assigned to lead the National Capital Medical Directorate.  She provides a recommended reading list and reviews to Navy Reads this week. -- Bill Doughty)

By Rear Adm. Raquel Cruz Bono

I've always been fascinated by the challenges of adapting to change, making change happen and the responsibilities of leadership to be an effective agent of change.  In each of my jobs, I've observed and studied the various challenges that individuals, leaders and organizations experience as they anticipate, respond to and create change.  Not all change events were successful, but they have all been instructive. While electronic media have globalized the transfer of knowledge and access to information, reading is still required to assimilate novel thoughts, to maintain contemporary understanding of world events, and to develop insight into complex issues.

Rear Adm. Raquel Bono speaks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by MC3 Diana Quinlan.
The following books have shaped my approach to and appreciation for change.  While change is often anxiety provoking for the ambiguity it often represents and brings, change also offers a wide vista in which to make change happen -- an imperative skill set for today's leadership.  Leadership begins with the ability to influence the behaviors of others so that their collective actions are synchronized to a common objective.  I've found that the most effective leaders don't require a solid or dotted line on an organizational chart to be an effective leader.  Often times, their effectiveness starts with how they value and respect the people with whom they work.

Respecting and valuing the contributions of others is challenging even in communities who share common attributes, but it can be especially daunting when backgrounds, values and upbringing are distinctly unique from each other.  Valuing others' inputs often begins with developing cross-cultural appreciation -- both internationally and within the US.  The following books have been very helpful to deepening my appreciation of the richness and distinctive nuances of the Asia Pacific countries and cultures. 

In Our Image” (Stanley Karnow) is an historical retrospective of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines through a journalist's observations.  He chronicles the shifting and sometimes inconsistent partnering between the US and the Philippines.  While not always flattering for either country, the Filipinos' fledgling efforts to develop a sense of nationalism was not only challenged by the influences of occupying countries and cultures, but sometimes clashed with the United States' efforts to introduce American ideals and values.

Another very insightful book is On China (Henry Kissinger).  This is a lengthy tome, but Mr. Kissinger's writing style makes for a very easy and informative read.  He has deep respect, insight and understanding of the complex and intricate society of the People's Republic of China.  His book serves to emphasize how achieving a successful, working relationship with the PRC demands patience, appreciation and sensitivity.  Both of these books serve to illustrate that relationship-building begins with valuing the unique and distinctive characteristics of a people and their societies.  Tremendous change is often possible when successful leaders demonstrate authentic appreciation for the subtle and diverse attributes among their staffs and within their own organizations.

Opportunities to advance goals and achieve progress abound.  Yet, often these occasions pass with little impact to an end state.  Making change happen begins with the commitment to change.  While the following two books are health-centered, they offer keen examples of how care given to others was elevated when a commitment was made to change the usual provision of care and concentrate on a patient's needs.  

“Rule Number Two” (Heidi Kraft, MD) is a heartrending account of a psychiatrist and the troops she cared for while deployed to a combat hospital in Iraq.  She brings to the forefront the psychological trauma that accompanies the very visible injuries of war while also reminding us that sometimes the greatest trauma is that which we cannot see or bandage or repair.  As our military and society collectively grapple with the repercussions of post-traumatic stress, Dr. Kraft reminds us of the importance of resiliency and caring and appreciating the sacrifices that all have made.

“In Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance” (Atul Gawande, MD) shares a series of vignettes that show how the commitment of the dedicated can have profound and sweeping impact to elevate the health and well-being of a country, as was done by eliminating polio in India.  In each story, there is a goal to make something better, a desire to reach beyond the status quo followed by the single-minded focus that creates the dedication and momentum to make change happen.  While set primarily in the field of medicine where the demand for mistakes are low and the stakes high, there are lessons applicable to any sector that is challenged to produce the very best product despite limited reserves, information or resources.

As change management becomes an imperative with the evolving and rapid challenges of today, the following books articulate helpful reminders and strategies.  

“Leading Change” (John P. Kotter) reminds us of the various challenges that hinder efforts to transform an organization.  At the root of change management is creating a sense of urgency that propels an alteration in behavior -- at the personal and the company levels.  Kotter does a nice job of describing those cultural and institutional habits that tend to get in the way of transformation and create resistance to change.

On the other hand, Malcom Gladwell's book, “The Tipping Point,” describes the birth of a fad or new idea and how it takes hold in our society -- i.e., how it reaches the tipping point and becomes popular.  It starts with the premise that little things can make a difference and by changing the behavior of small groups, a change is set in motion that attracts larger groups of people who now behave differently and are in concert with others.

I like to put the above two books together to understand how to overcome some of the barriers to change by recognizing where the resistance to change is resident, guiding  change to happen in incremental steps first (individual behavior) and then allowing momentum to transform an organization.

However, an important aspect of change is being able to effectively message the need for change and describe what specific changes are required.  “Made to Stick” (Chip Heath & Dan Heath) looks at what makes an idea "stick" and become memorable.  It's an insightful look into what makes communication effective and describes the attributes that make a concept easy to grasp, to assimilate and then to act upon.  There are some helpful suggestions, but a critical aspect of “Made to Stick” is understanding how a receiver's framework for receiving information is a powerful filter that can undo an otherwise compelling transmitter -- i.e., in order to be heard, you have to know how your audience listens.

Two additional books about transformation and change management are written by Daryl R. Conner.  “Managing at the Speed of Change” and “Leading at the Edge of Chaos” describe how change agents need to be rapidly adaptive and creatively resilient as progress and change are happening nearly instantaneously.  

Rapidly evolving global issues require leadership that is agile and anticipatory rather than plodding and reactive.  The themes in these books show that change happens regardless of any effort to prevent it and shaping an organization's response to change is an effective strategy for influencing outcomes while optimizing choices.

Finally, as a parent, one of the most challenging changes to manage are the transformations that happen to your children as they transition from childhood, through teens and into adulthood.  While “Ten Best Gifts for Your Teen” (Patt & Steve Saso) is primarily written for parents of rising teens, I again found application to the challenges of leadership and managing change.  Of the ten gifts that they describe, the most effective ones I've found are respect and reconciliation -- both at home and in the office.  

Respect is at the heart of any relationship and begins with accepting another's thoughts and feelings.  Respecting a teen's privacy and emerging social interests is just as important as respecting a colleague's expertise and opinion on a topic.  However, the more challenging gift to give anyone is reconciliation - the ability to apologize and admit to being wrong.  The transformative power of an apology is enormous, and at the heart of effective leadership is maintaining one's humanity through the sustainment of your relationships.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FARAH, Afghanistan (Jan. 18, 2013) Operations Specialist 1st Class Megan Garcia, a tactical operations watchstander for Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, reads a book to her children as part of a United Through Reading Read-a-thon. Participants in the program were encouraged to read to children in their families or to students at Birch Elementary in Idaho, to promote childhood literacy. United Through Reading is a non-profit organization that enables deployed service members to share their love and support with their children by reading books aloud on DVD. PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/Released)

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