Charles Barkley – Change Agent

By Scott Franklin
As appeared in IMPACT

Charles Barkley is one of those polarizing public figures who tend to divide people into two groups – Fans and Detractors. Known as much for his off and on court antics as his basketball talent, there is a lot in his history to support either side. Nevertheless, whichever way you feel towards Sir Charles, two things are true – he is a very talented athlete and he also knows Change. When faced with the prospect of his daughters dating, our Round Mound of Rebound focused on a key change principle. Referring to the young gentlemen showing an interest in his maturing daughters, he proclaimed:

“I figure if I kill the first one, word will get out.”

Ok, so technically Mr. Barkley is more interested in avoiding change than managing it, but the principle is sound – that when there are consequences, people pay attention.

Change and leadership share a common goal – influencing behaviors in others. When an organization faces change, there are inevitably those in the organization who will resist the change. The real problem, however, is not resistance but how to handle sustained resistance, especially if the resistor is an influential individual in the organization. As change leaders we can communicate, coach, inspire and motivate, but change comes down to personal choice. W hen someone makes the choice to not change, it is our job to go “Charles Barkley” on them.

I don’t mean that we need to start spitting on an eight-year-old girl (March 1991) or picking a fight with Shaquille O’Neil (Nov 1999). What it does mean is that we send a clear message about what behaviors will and won’t be tolerated.

Too often, the primary sponsor for the change is not prepared for the possibility (or probability) that a senior member of her staff will fail to create the necessary sense of urgency to drive the change. When this lack of engagement occurs, the primary sponsor is neither mentally nor emotionally prepared to address the situation and the organization begins to believe that the change is optional.  Leaders should actively look for and surface legitimate questions and concerns regarding the change. However, once the strategy and direction have been decided, continued and sustained resistance – either active or passive – will not be tolerated. In some scenarios, Mr. Barkley is unfortunately correct and a ‘sacrificial lamb’ must be created. There will be times where an influential leader in the organization will continue to resist the change and must be removed and, as Charles so eloquently stated, “Word gets out.”

More importantly, though, the sooner that word gets out that there will be consequences, the less likely that severe consequences will be necessary. By announcing his philosophy publicly, Mr. Barkley undoubtedly created a healthy sense of caution in all potential suitors without the administrative overhead of hiding bodies and cleaning the carpets. Similarly, when leading change, ensure that through word and action the message is clear – this change is not optional. This can do wonders for your carpet cleaning bill.

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