By Tino Mantella
TLG President & CEO
Change the people or change the people. That was the theme that I adopted when running the Chicago YMCA. When I accepted the role to lead one of the largest Y’s in the world, at age 39, I was both anxious and desperate to make my mark. My mark, in my mind, was to have our organization touch more people, particularly the underprivileged, in new ways. Ways that would change the lives of youth, family, and community for the better.
Being the first person to be hired in the CEO post from outside Illinois, in the over one-hundred-year history of the organization, positioned me as the outsider. The battle lines were drawn, as I saw it at the time. The change agent versus the “that’s the way we have always done it “majority. After attempting to change the mindset of my twelve direct reports, I along with the other outsiders I brought into the organization, determined that many of the existing leaders were not going to change, so we coined the term, “change the people or change the people”. Since the change in them was not happening, in our view, I/we ended up terminating eleven of my twelve direct reports.
Was disrupting the lives of those that “had to go” the right decision? If one were measuring the results against my initial goal the answer would be a resounding yes. Yet, looking back after many years serving in leadership roles, I still wonder if there was another way.
Helping Others Become Leaders
Did I take the easy way out? Perhaps some that were terminated could have ended up being top performers? Could they have taught me and the other “outsiders” some things? Could I not have disrupted so many lives and still have reached new heights? The answers is a likely yes. Would the “juice been worth the squeeze”? I really don’t know, but if I had it to do it over again, particularly after observing how the TLG executive coaches favorably help leaders become stronger leaders, I would have liked to have tried. Finally, I am sure it was as much about me and my new team as it was about them.
The bottom-line, regarding the above scenario, is that changing one’s point of view may be the hardest thing to do in business and in life. We often look at change with immediacy – it’s one issue and one moment in time. The reality is you are likely going up against an individual’s entire life history and all the people that have influenced them along the way. Today, it may be most pronounced in politics. I often scratch my head and ask myself; how can two people hear the same message and take away two totally different points-of-view. Of course, change extends far beyond politics. It’s religion, finance, ethics, how to lead, and anything and everything else in between.
Listening to Others
The previous paragraph might leave you thinking that I feel everyone else needs to change and I will stand pat. To flip the paradigm, I admit that it’s hard for me to change my point of view. I can dig in as much as the next guy. What’s my challenge? To be a better listener. I shouldn’t be thinking of my retort to someone else’s point of view while they are expressing that point of view. I should give other opinions time to sink in and put myself in their shoes.
Most times in life we can find opportunities to collaborate. Yet, often, we end up in win/lose scenarios. Worse yet, in order to keep everyone happy we compromise. To me, that can be worse than win/lose scenarios. We want to build an elephant but in order to keep the peace we give up and give in on the debate and build a Zebra….good enough….we built something.
I recently read Adam Grant’s new book, “Think Again”. Grant says, beware of the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Imagine yourself in a boardroom with a powerful CEO and she is full of confidence and bluster when she states a firm opinion. Then everyone else in the room says – great idea boss. Well, one is never going to get to change by always agreeing with the boss. Polite pushback is a great thing. Be bold. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, and if you can take that, be bold.
Perhaps, there was more change in 2020 than at any point since World War II. Isolation was one significant outcome. There were a lot of bad, bad things happening. Yet, if we embraced the change we might look back in a few years and feel that the forces that caused us to change made us better people. I hope you all made lemonade out of lemons. Here is to change. Here is to resilience. Tino firstname.lastname@example.org Phone 770-270-1723 Tino’s Bio