It’s Not the Cynic Who Counts

I want to start off this post with a very open admission – yes, the title to this blog post is meant to invoke the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910… the one that tends to be described as “The Man in the Arena”. Now that we’ve got that properly settled, let’s move on.

I’m a little nerdy when it comes to the topic of the culture of organizations, groups and teams.  I’ve always liked being part of teams and found tremendous amounts of energy and purpose from being part of something larger than myself striving towards a common goal.  The magic of uniting with like-minded folks and trying to figure out how each of our unique talents, experience and viewpoints can contribute to that goal is endlessly fascinating to me.  I’ve only come to appreciate that in a very keen sense the last several years.  It explains my current role in “Employee Experience” where I work and the masters degree in applied psychology I am oh-so-close to completing with the University of Southern California.

One thing that’s caught my attention of late is what it takes to make changes in these group environments.  Without delving too deeply into all the nuances and psychological underpinnings of change management, there’s one spot that has been on my mind: resistance.  It’s one of the inevitables of seeking change because… well… we as humans don’t always cozy up to change real quickly.  Hell, I know I don’t.

But in group change dynamics, the resistance can come in the form of not just skepticism, but genuine cynicism.  “Oh look at you… thinking you’ll fix all this.  That’s adorable.  Let me spoil the ending since I’ve seen this movie a few hundred times before at this place – ain’t gonna work.  But hey, good luck with your fun.”  Well I’m fired up to conquer the world now – how about you? *insert highly-vexed eyeroll emoji*

Now, the people who take this view could actually have very valid and well-earned cynicism – maybe they have seen flavor-of-the-month change efforts come and go, each time brought forward through some new leader who wants to make his or her stamp on their organization, but who really wasn’t committed to making the change… just to the appearance of it.  It’s hard to criticize anyone for getting tired of seeing fake change that smacks of insincerity.  I get it.  And in any smart change effort, the resistors and cynics do need to be accounted for in making an earnest change.

Here is my caution in all of this and the point of this entire post: planning for people who aren’t on board with making a change is smart, but they aren’t the ones who will count, especially when they are likely a vocal minority.  If you have a good idea, but discount it or even totally scale it back because of the cynics, you’re likely missing out on creating a rallying point to the far larger (but much quieter) majority that is looking for someone to step forward to advocate zealously for much-needed change.  I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my career on scales both small and vast.

Don’t water down your ideas or pull your punches because of the negative few.  They may have valid perspective, but they aren’t worth caving your efforts over.  The many who stay silent may very well be doing so because they have hope, but are looking for that bold soul to step forward as the catalyst.  And maybe that catalyst is you.

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