Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī — a 13th century Sufi mystic, religious scholar, and poet — once said:
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
I have always been a tinkerer. I just can’t leave things alone; I have to fix them. Even if they aren’t broken. I suspect that some of my fellow travelers think of me as a loose canon. It’s a wonderful image, referring to what sometimes happened on wooden sailing ships when a heavy canon broke loose from its moorings and started rolling around the deck, wrecking havoc. Fellow travelers who also happen to be my friends are usually kinder; they refer to me as a gadfly or an agitator. I prefer the term “change agent.”
There’s a lot of literature out there about being a change agent. Much of it is written for managers and executives, and offers principles and techniques for bringing about change in their corporate environment. The problem is that change — genuine change — has less to do with techniques than with character. It’s easy to confuse management with leadership when thinking about change.
You see, change agency is a leadership function, not a management function. Management is mostly about keeping the trains running, and maybe finding ways to improve the routing and scheduling to make things run more efficiently. Leadership, on the other hand, is mainly about casting a vision, a vision that grips people’s hearts, a vision that ignites something inside them, that makes them willing to step out into the unknown and follow you to a new place. Management requires skills and techniques. Leadership also requires skills and techniques, but is mostly about character.
After a lifetime of being a change agent, I have finally figured out that the most important changes are not on the outside; they are on the inside. Change agency is mostly about what goes on inside the change agent. Yes, the world needs changing. But more importantly, I need changing. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Unless I change my mind, of course.
What do you think?