There is nothing more difficult . . . than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
-- Niccolò Machiavelli
Machiavelli's 500-year-old warning notwithstanding, we elected a president who is committed to "change." The economic meltdown in which our country finds itself at the start of his administration makes his difficult task even more daunting. In less than two months, the hopeful enthusiasm that welcomed the Obama administration has given way to growing worry and frustration. I find myself wringing my hands, not over the goals President Obama has set but over the ineffectual ways the administration has pursued them. I have no qualifications to judge how well the Obama team manages the political dynamics, but as a business executive with 40 years' experience, much of it managing change, and a part-time academic dedicated to studying why so few corporations succeed in navigating change, I feel compelled to comment not on the what of the Obama team's efforts but on the how.
I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision -- any decision -- but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path. ...