Inspired Project Teams Enduring Wisdom & Guided Challenges to Help Project Teams Achieve Their Best
  • Be the Change You Want to See

    Filed under Shift Perspective
    May 10

    Audio: Be the Change You Want to See [Time – 11:25, File Size – 10.8 MB]

    “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” –  Mahatma Gandhi

    “I can’t hear your words because they are drowned out by your actions” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    “If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see.”  – Henry David Thoreau

    “… if you want joy, give joy to others; if you want love, learn to give love; if you want attention and appreciation, learn to give attention and appreciation; if you want material affluence, help others to become materially affluent.”  Deepak Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

    All these quotes point to the same powerful truth that has become an aphorism: Actions speak louder than words. What’s more, implied in all these bits of wisdom is the deeper truth that when you take a heartfelt action, especially one that is rooted in giving of yourself, you somehow release into the world the same sort of energy that propelled you to take this action. The result: Other people resonate to your energy and begin to replicate your behavior. By being (or manifesting) the change you wish to see, you are actually releasing forces that conspire to bring about more of this change in the world.

    OK. That sounds a little cosmic, right? Well, here are a couple of examples that will make this all a bit more real.

    Picking Up the Litter

    Here in the Los Angeles area, I take a daily cardio walk/run carrying weights. I walk along a groomed, palm-tree-lined city trail, complete with benches and garbage cans placed at strategic locations. A couple of months ago, I began noticing Styrofoam drinking cups and bags from chips scattered around messing up the otherwise green and well-groomed view. After I got over being irritated, I decided to see how much longer my exercises would take if I were to simply pick this stuff up and deposit it at the nearest garbage can. In all, there are usually just 4 or 5 locations where I need to stop for litter. The impact on my walk, I learned by timing it, was to add less than 60 seconds to the overall duration. That’s not much impact, when weighed against the benefits of removing the visual blight.

    Now along this route there’s a particular bench where all the day laborers hang out, waiting for someone to come and take them to a job site for work. These guys have been the worst for littering, with all kinds of cups and bags dribbled around their bench. Now I certainly don’t want to tangle with them… they are all younger and stronger than I am. Worse, I don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English, so I could barely get past a quick Hello, even if I wanted to complain. In any case, I decided to go ahead and pick up the litter around them, smiling all the while, then deposit it unceremoniously in the trash can beside their bench, and wave good-bye. Now, the first few times I did this, they looked puzzled, but tolerated me. After a few days of repeating this behavior, I started to be received with smiles and hellos. And finally, just about a week ago, I saw that they had begun to pick up the litter when they caught sight of me coming. They laughed when I got there and said, “See… It’s okay… We got it!”

    In fact, for the last several days, their bench area has been either trash-free or they begin picking it up when they see me coming. It’s kind of good-natured game! But more importantly, the change I wanted to see (i.e., everyone picking up trash to keep the path clean) has now been manifested because I first became that change! No lectures, no complaining, no yelling… I just became the change and set loose the energy for it to manifest beyond me! How cool is that!

    The Subject Matter Experts

    Here’s a project management example. I was once managing a large project whose goal was to create a comprehensive collection of printed and mediated training materials to support a new family of high tech products. My team of instructional designers and writers had to interview dozens of subject matter experts (SMEs) and take away technical documentation from each of these meetings to serve as references so they could simplify this stuff and turn it into training for end-users and sales people. The trouble is that most of these SMEs would show up at our meetings with copies of their overview presentations only, but no extra copies of their detailed technical documents. Without the deep detail references, my writers had nothing to work with! So, to fix this, I began asking these SMEs for their one and only single copy of these detailed documents at the beginning of each meeting, then I’d run out to the client’s copying center and make copies for each of our writers while the SME and writers went ahead with their overview meeting.

    As the two-week-long series of interviews progressed, I began to be greeted by SMEs who would look around for me, smile, and direct my attention to a stack of copies they had brought with them. It seems the word had spread that if they didn’t bring copies, I’d be taking their documents away to make my own! So the change I wanted to see (all my writers having detailed reference documentation) had been manifested not because I complained or nagged, but because I simply “became the change” by doing the copying myself. (And yes, by the way, we had asked them to make copies in advance memos we had sent, but heck, who reads memos?!)

    Project Teams Can Change!

    Project teams often develop their own subcultures made up of attitudes and behaviors that aren’t always positive. For example, a team might develop a habit of endlessly complaining about lack of management support or not having enough resources to do the work. Or teams might develop an overly competitive, workaholic tendency to labor into the nights and weekends at the expense of their family and personal lives.

    To change these behaviors or attitudes, the project manager (or a respected team leader) must take the initiative to “be the change,” modeling it and showing it to be a worthwhile adaptation. So, in the case of the endlessly complaining team, someone must stop the cycle by simply countering the complaints with an opposing point of view, citing evidence to the contrary or, better still, making it a practice to overtly state why it’s fun, challenging, and career-stretching to work on the project. Or, in the case of our workaholic team, a respected team member could “be the change” and simply start going home at a more reasonable time, refusing to work weekends, and occasionally sharing some of the good things that are happening at home with family and recreation.

    The key:  To make changes, someone must, well… change! Someone must bravely manifest the desired behavior or attitude so it can eventually spread to the rest of the team.

    Greer’s Challenges…


    Reflect on these questions:

    • What changes in behavior or attitude would you like to see in your organization?
    • What are some potential situations that would allow you to model one of these new, changed behaviors or attitudes?
    • What’s stopping you from making the change? … from modeling the new behavior or attitude?

    Team Challenges

    Ask your team:

    • What are some behaviors or attitudes you’ve been thinking “really ought to be changed around here.” What do we need to do differently?
    • Have you tried making a small, individual change in your behavior or attitude that could prove the value of this change?
    • What are some of the obstacles you face when you try to implement an individual change in behavior or attitude? … How might these obstacles be removed?
    • Does it make sense to ask for senior management help in removing obstacles to change?

    Project Manager Challenges

    • Think about your project team’s stresses, irritations, or discomforts.
    • Could some of these stresses, irritations, or discomforts be removed by changes in the project work flow or work process? If so, what’s stopping you from supporting these changes?
    • If necessary, have a serious talk with appropriate senior managers to share ways they might support important changes your project team wants to make in attitude or behavior.
    • Just do it! Become (manifest by yourself) the change that would be good for your team. Be their model.
    • Support and (if appropriate) praise all those little attempts your project team makes to bring about positive changes in attitude or behavior.

    Learn More….

    • Go to PhilosophersNotes and get the full notes & MP3son these books:
      • Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
      • The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • Or go to and find books by all these authors.





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