Consider the Elephant When Leading Change

An excellent analogy for examining behavioral change is that of an elephant and its rider trying to follow a certain path, writeschange Chip and Dan Heath in their bestseller SWITCH. The elephant, being a powerful, stubborn creature, represents the emotional side of people, looking for a quick payoff rather than long-term benefits. The rider in turn represents the rational side that knows what should be done, and can tug at the elephant’s reigns to exert some small degree of control over it. Finally, the path represents the situation in which the change is to take place.

There are many components that influence whether change will be successful, whether progress along the path is made. From changing your own diet to influencing others’ behavior, your success will depend on your ability to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.

Consider the following when implementing new school initiatives:

  1. Use a “systems” approach to ensure that all aspects of the learning community are considered when planning and implementing change and develop a team of stakeholders throughout the change process.
  2. Share oversight with teachers and others to encourage the implementation of the change efforts.
  3. Make plans, but “hold your plans loosely.” Develop plans, but know that they will have to be adapted to change as needs change.
  4. Realize the tension between establishing readiness for change and the need to get people implementing new behaviors quickly. While getting people intellectually ready for change is something to be considered, don’t take so much time and effort that people lose interest and motivation.
  5. Provide training and staff development for staff.
  6. Choose innovative practices for and with teachers that are research-based and student centered. Picking approaches that have been used or researched can help the implementation.
  7. Recognize that change happens only through people. The emotional effects of change on educators need to be considered and understood by all involved in the change process. Understanding resistance and working with it is key.
  8. Be prepared for “implementation dip.” Fullan (1993) and others note that things often get worse temporarily before improvement begins to appear.
  9. Seek out “paradigm shifters” and “idea champions” who are interested in making substantial changes in practice.
  10. Take the long view; realize that change takes time and should not be forced to occur too quickly.elephant

Authentic Change and Perseverance

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

-Calvin Coolidge

Are you looking for excellence in all facets of your school environment? Before you start any kind of short or long term game change, put your running shoes on and persevere. You cannot sprint and make lasting, valuable, internal change happen! It’s like running a marathon, so be prepared for a long, strenuous journey before feeling the satisfaction of finishing the race.

Having perseverance means starting from the beginning and collaborating with your colleagues. We cannot think about a building or district change as instantly moving individuals a thousand feet forward but, rather, about pushing a thousand people forward one foot at a time.

You can imagine persistence in change as waging a ground game instead of an air game in football. While an air game (lots of passing the ball) is a fairly quick and safe way to attack an opponent, it is rarely enough to defeat them. The consistent ground attack wins more games. This analogy implies that you need to invest time, manpower and resources to “conquer” (or move) each opponent.

Lasting change is rarely a singular, transformational event, but rather something simple, yet consistent, taking place over time. Change is not a singular decision; it’s a state of mind. It’s the simple decisions we make daily to be better. It’s a chain of decisions, defined as continuous improvement.

Authentic change is more than experiencing an awakening or spark of inspiration. Authentic change is action taken to move one’s heart forward. Authentic change requires consistency. Authentic change is a day-to-day struggle. Authentic change perseveres.

Embracing Change!

Positive and successful change means leaders must have the courage to risk and shake the world up a little.

Here is a great story from Jeff Hayzlett, the former Chief Marketing Officer for Kodak that illustrates how leaders think:

“There was a clock on the wall that was always off and never gave the correct time. Everybody kept complaining about it and what a waste it was to have the clock hanging on the wall.

 Finally I pointed to someone and said, why don’t you do something about it? And they said, well, we have to call maintenance and we don’t know who to call. Just then, a young woman got up, pushed her chair over to the wall, opened up the clock and changed it to the correct time.

 And that’s all it takes to be an agent of change.

It’s someone willing to overcome the first three seconds of fear, willing to be a beginner, willing to say, I’m going to do something that’s different and change it”.


1. Take initiative. Make it happen. Don’t wait for someone else to take over or to offer to help you out. Do you want to improve your relationship with someone? Do you want to change the way you react to demanding situations? Do you want to change an aspect of your current job? Whatever it is you want to change, you won’t get very far without taking immediate action.

2. Create an environment for change. There is nothing more discouraging than trying to create change in an environment that is not conducive to it. Be open and receptive to feedback so you can get a buy-in for change.

3. Flexibility. Leaders are flexible by nature. They can quickly change direction, refocus and get back on track when they need to. They are not deterred by opposition. They can receive complaints and view them as constructive feedback or suggestions for better solutions.

Change should be manageable. Leaders understand that most people can be resistors to change. In fact, they know that some people are dead set against it. However, most people are more willing to say “yes” to clear, manageable changes as opposed to large, confusing and complicated ones.

Your Thoughts?