I awoke yesterday morning to the terrible news that I lost a dear friend overnight. My friend, Butch Sweeney, could no longer stand to be in this mortal shell. He had suffered tremendously for years. But, he is not suffering today. He is dancing on the streets of Heaven and his amazing tenor voice is being heard loud and clear once again.
But this article today is not merely a tribute to him and to his life. Rather, it is a brief story about one of the toughest leadership lessons I ever learned. Butch taught me that it is not a question of who is right or wrong. It is a question of including all of the stakeholders and “selling” the idea to them first.
The idea was that in order to increase the effectiveness and reach of the organization that we both loved and served, a change was necessary to how we served the people of that organization. It was my idea that if we radically altered how we delivered the message to the members, we would see greater attendance, greater involvement, and greater engagement. At least, that was the idea.
Butch and I found ourselves on the opposite sides of a significant “Change” in an organization that we both held dear to our hearts. We were both fully invested in the organization and wanted it to succeed. We were dear friends and we both had the best interests of the organization at heart. We both knew some kind of change was necessary to stop the steady decline in attendance and participation. We just differed on what that change would look like.
I and a few others felt it was necessary to make a bold and radical change. I felt that the change alone would cause such a burst of energy and enthusiasm that we would be resoundingly successful. So, we employed a “full speed ahead” process. We charged ahead and we were absolutely convinced that we would be successful.
The problem was that I overlooked Butch and I underestimated his influence within the organization. I never took the time to “sell” the idea and the need for change to someone with the level of influence that he had at that time and had up until the day he went Home to be with the Lord. I just assumed that if the idea was good and that I pushed hard enough, I would be successful.
The Leadership Lesson
Here is the lesson that I learned 25 years ago. I learned the importance of bringing ALL of the stakeholders together and including them in the change management process. Actually, I learned the importance of bringing them into the idea generation process. It is not about who is right or who has the better idea. It is about inclusion and “selling” the idea BEFORE you make the change. You cannot sell the idea once you make a radical change.
He also taught me that leadership is not about position and authority. It is about influence. I had the position and the authority. And he had the influence. I should have realized that at the time. Perhaps the outcome of the change would have been different.
The legacy of Butch Sweeney lives on in my life today. He taught me a very valuable leadership lesson. He taught me the lesson with much more humility, grace, and dignity than I exhibited as I learned it at the time. Our differences never impacted our friendship. He was too much of a leader and a true gentleman to allow that to happen.
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