The Illusion of Successful change requires the top person

Peggy Holman pholman at
Wed Feb 21 12:34:51 PST 2001

Since I first started learning about change, the conventional wisdom has
been "successful change requires that the person at the top of the
organization be actively involved."

Open Space, turned this truth on its ear for me.  I began to think maybe
change can happen from anywhere.  I actually did some experimenting while
still inside an organization by working where there seemed to be energy
because the person at the top wasn't interested in change.  The people I
worked with tended to be at the margin and what we did never had much impact
on the larger system.

Still, I didn't feel satisfied that I'd simply proved that the conventional
wisdom was true.  There are just too many amazing examples of one ordinary
person making something extraordinary happen.  Think Erin Brokavitch if you
want a current example being celebrated by a movie.  Recently, I have come
to a belief about what might be happening and want to test it.  I can't
think of a better sounding board than this list.

Here's my thought:

As long as people believe that change requires active involvement from the
top, this is true.

It is self-fulfilling because those not at the top have either consciously
or unconsciously given away their power to have an impact.  And those at the
top either consciously or unconsciously accept that power as theirs to wield
as they see fit.

In practice, all it takes is one person living a different belief -- that
anyone can bring about change -- to begin the shift.  Clearly change is not
static.  Wherever it starts, it must move to others for a shift to take
place.  Ultimately, that means the top gets involved.  But contrary to
conventional wisdom which I think shuts off enormous potential, change can
come from anywhere.



Peggy Holman
The Open Circle Company
15347 SE 49th Place
Bellevue, WA  98006
425.865.8168 (fax)

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