Credit: Photo by Will Myers on Unsplash
The Positive Deviants
A few years ago I read Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by the Heath brothers. It remains one of my favourite books on the whole subject of change.
One particular section has stayed with me: the idea of the bright spots, the positive deviants, as academics call them, who can model and lead a positive change.
The Heath brothers tell the story of how Jerry Sternin helped change a whole nation, Vietnam, thereby saving millions of lives. And he did this by working through those few who positively modelled the kind of behaviours he knew would be crucial. These positive outliers were a few Vietnamese mothers whose anomalous, counter-cultural behaviours helped save their children from malnutrition. It was through these mothers that he helped to promote a national cookery programme, almost village by village, that saw national child mortality rates plummet.
This chimed with so much of my research around the high-performers in programme and project management. These people led the way – or, at least, they showed the way. The more I learned about these high performers, the more it encouraged me to challenge the status quo of what it means to lead a change well, particularly in more formal project contexts.
It also encouraged me that the unusual practices of these extraordinary performers, their behaviours, their rituals and their thought processes, were habits within the reach of the rest of us. We could learn from their approaches. And with some resolve and focus, we could get the same results.
They do something right
I prefer to call this group Positive Outliers. They are positive models in that they show in practice what is truly a superior way to work and lead change. They are outliers in that their performance is not normal or usual.
This led me on a journey, making sense of this by writing and coaching, that resulted in publishing my first book, Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships (2013), about what the majority mistakenly call “stakeholder management” – became an instant success. It was adopted by an international accrediting body as their core reference for their stakeholder engagement qualification.
Then, three years ago, I brought out my second solo book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. This deals with what business schools call personal mastery, how leaders begin with themselves, their private internal world, and build in certain personal practices that come to have a huge pay-off.
An Internal, Generative Conversation
However, there is more on this internal world that has been a huge benefit to me and my work, a habit that has affected all other areas of my life. And, as is often the way of these things, I was not the first to discover it.
But more on that in my next post.
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