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How do you Set the Conditions for change?

Good Leaders can drive change.

Great leaders set the conditions for the changes that are needed to happen.

Think of it is as a kind of reverse planning.

When I commanded a Marine rifle company outside Fallujah in 2007, I had already set the conditions for them to be proficient in shooting, moving, and communicating as small units and as a company. This began at the beginning of our training by communicating what was expected in behavior and skills and holding them accountable to it. My lieutenants, their platoon sergeants, the senior enlisted and the experienced corporals and sergeants also modeled the behavior and enforced those expectations.

We knew that we wouldn’t necessarily fight as a company in Iraq. We’d be spread out across a rural countryside with platoons in patrol bases and squads out on regular patrols. To do that, the leaders and I needed to set the conditions so we could trust relatively young (20-25 years old) corporals and sergeants with making decisions on patrol that could impact the lives of Marines and local Iraqis. Months of training, evaluating, and just getting to know them built up enough confidence that I fully trusted them to make the right decisions when we deployed (The majority did. Two squad leaders ended up being replaced.)

While developing junior leaders and constantly learning more as an organization was an ongoing task in Iraq, that was just the foundation.

We needed all of those conditions met, maintained, and improved in order to be successful in counterinsurgency. If war is the competition to control terrain, counterinsurgency is a competition with the insurgent to win the population’s trust, or at least their cooperation. In order to neutralize Al Qaeda operating in the area, we had to gain the respect and trust of the locals–which included low-level, non-Al Qaeda insurgents– so that they would trust us more than they feared Al Qaeda. I had to trust my Marines—again, guys in their early 20’s—to do that.

In a lot of ways, setting the conditions for change hinges on forging relationships–always with the people on your team, but–more frequently in a polarized world–often with the “other” side.

So how can you start setting the conditions for change in your organization?

You model the behavior you want in the organization.

You develop people–not just their key talent you need, but the whole person.

You use your knowledge or position to remove obstacles so people can do their jobs.

On the more complex end of the spectrum, you also give up some control. If you’ve trained people, developed them, built relationships, and deepened trust, then you can trust that they will also be bring about needed changes–things you didn't anticipate, things you couldn't see from your perspective.

Master facilitator Adam Kahane has a similar view about facilitation:

“You don’t get anyone to do anything. You remove obstacles to allow them to do what they need to do.”

Want to explore more about about setting conditions or how it primes you to think strategically?

The video was shot in the moment of thinking about setting conditions while standing INSIDE a loaded livestock trailer. I frame setting the conditions around me getting the hogs to do what I need them to do, which is admittedly manipulative. In leadership of course, we want to accomplish the job and serve the people in our charge, not manipulate them…

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