Who Moved My Cheese? Great Leaders Embrace Change

Great leadership involves many factors, the biggest being how one deals with change.  Change is a funny thing.  We all know intellectually that it is inevitable, but we sometimes resist or fight it as if this were a real option. But the great leaders embrace change. They understand that while it may be scary and unnerving, change also offers opportunities to challenge oneself as well as members of your own team to be more creative, flexible and strategic.

In his classic book, “Who Moved My Cheese?,” the late Dr. Spencer Johnson told a simple but powerful story about four characters in a “maze” who are obsessed with finding “cheese.”  Two of the characters are mice named Sniff and Scurry and two are “little people,” Hem and Haw, who are as small as mice but have a very different approach to finding cheese.  The “cheese” is a metaphor for anything we want or desire in life.  It could be a great job, a terrific company with flowing profits, or the relationship of your dreams.  The “maze,” said Johnson, is “where you look for what you want—the organization you work in or the family or community you live in.”

In business and in life, change is the only constant, yet all four characters in the book see it very differently.  The mice expect it, revel in it and actually figure out how to have fun looking for new cheese as the old cheese disappears.  However, Hem and Haw seem constantly frustrated, resentful and angry.  But the “cheese” they were convinced they earned and owned is no longer where they expected.  Said Johnson, “It would all be so easy if you had a map to the maze.  If the same old routines worked.  If they just stopped moving ‘the cheese,’ but things keep changing.”

And so it is today in the world of business.  Old paradigms no longer apply.  Economics and markets keep changing.  We have new competitors every day and when times are tough, those who “buy from us” want more for less and it is harder than ever before to bring on those prospects sitting on the fence.  The leaders of many organizations as well as individuals refuse to see the handwriting on the wall and just hope that things will get better.  Yet, wishful thinking is no substitute for a strategic plan.  Real leaders not only come up with real solutions and partnerships, but they constantly motivate and inspire team members to get past their fear of change and rise to the challenge.

These leaders also communicate that vision for how the team must deal with the change.  They communicate in a compelling and clear fashion what is needed to survive and grow and who needs to do what on the team.  It is not enough for a leader to simply have the vision, he must find the words and set an example for others to see and follow.

Change isn’t easy.  We all seek stability and predictability.  But today more than ever change keeps hitting us in the face just when we think we can afford to get comfortable.  So stop fighting change.  It is no use and complaining isn’t a viable option.

So, what does the challenge of change have to do with leadership and communication?  Just about everything.  The question is, how are YOU leading your team as well as yourself and facing the constant changes in the “maze” of your life?

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