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Persistence

In transformation, as in virtually every human activity, persistence is often the difference between success and failure. If we do not persist, we “give up,” and those who give up are no longer assuming responsibility for the situation. To a greater or lesser degree, they become alienated.

Alienation is not conducive to the growth of the follower, the leader, or the organization. An organization being hurt by a leader’s dysfunctional behavior is further hurt by losing the committed energy of followers. The common purpose severely suffers.

There are many reasons that change may not be happening as quickly as we would like:

The timing may be wrong.

Distractions in the environment may overwhelm the effort.

The intervention may be inadequate; we may need to seek a second opinion, as we would in a deteriorating medical situation.

The consequences may still be too remote to provide motivation.

The effort may be undermined by actions from a more senior level or another influence.

Our own transformation may not be far enough along to serve as a catalyst for the leader’s transformation.

For the leader and follower, as for any people in a relationship, commitment and stick-to-it-iveness are needed to overcome adversity and work out interpersonal difficulties.

When leaders try to improve an organization’s awareness and behavior, they find many ways of sending their message throughout the organization. Customer-service campaigns, for example, run for years with training, speeches, newsletters, posters, videos, focus groups, reengineering processes, incentive programs, award ceremonies, and so on. When followers try to raise leaders’ awareness and influence their choices, they may also need to find many ways of getting the message across. Transformation requires patience and determination, creativity and determination, determination and more determination.

A courageous follower’s art is to persist without letting the effort deteriorate into a power struggle. The follower’s need to make an impact cannot drive the process. The drivers must continue to be the common purpose and the welfare of the leader, the organization, and those the organization serves.

If we get haughty, if we become arrogant about the leader, we have become “hooked.” Something in our own psyche, something of our own issues with power has been triggered. We can’t lead the leader in areas we have not ourselves addressed. We would do better to work on these for a while rather than unproductively butt egos with the leader.

We must remember that more change may be happening under the surface than is apparent from the leader’s visible behavior. The struggle is like hatching an egg—a lot of work is done inside the shell where others can’t see it before the first cracks appear, let alone a hole large enough to step through. Just when we think we cannot reach this person, that she is not capable of change, she may make her breakthrough—darkness before the dawn. Just when we think we cannot make this relationship work, we may have our own breakthrough that unlocks it.