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Lifestyle and Travel

Book Review: Jeff Skipper’s Dancing with Disruption: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation.

Jeff Skipper

Transformation has been on business leadership’s radar since well before the pandemic. But most leaders had no idea we could — or would — adapt as fast as we did in order to deal with the conditions of COVID-19. Yet adapt we did. To change management expert Jeff Skipper, this was a crucible moment that revealed just how leaders can best spearhead rapid transformation — and the lessons learned have been gathered in his new book, Dancing with Disruption: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation.

As Skipper notes, the pandemic was a vast, universal experiment in behavior change, and he mines it thoroughly, for expertise, best practices, and cautionary tales. He reminds us that — like it or not — we left offices, classrooms, stores, and meeting places; we donned masks and carried hand sanitizer; and we changed the way we conduct life and work forever. Words like “remote” and “pivot” and “hybrid” and “disruption” entered our vocabulary and stayed — because unlike pre-pandemic theorizing and even some practice, this was the real thing. We literally had no choice, and the stakes were inconceivably high. He points out the wild range in new rules, from the confusion that marked the U.S. to  “draconian” New Zealand — and that while some of our new habits were transient, others have now stayed with us and created a new normal.

But what’s so compelling is not only that we were able to change, but in the process also transformed our understanding of how to convince people to buy into transformation, from behaviors to operations. Skipper has consolidated the many lessons learned into a dozen pandemic-proven strategies that can be applied to virtually any situation. For any leader looking for get their teams on board and head in a new direction, the book provides a realistic look at what they’re up against, and what they can do to deal with everything from goal-setting to resistance to motivation and measurements. 

Dancing with Disruption

Skipper has some 25 years of experience working with major organizations of all stripes — early years at IBM, then clients from BP to the Salvation Army. He’s forged an approach that goes well beyond the norm, upending some of the most common myths you’ll see in leadership columns on Forbes, etc. He’s not into accepting the latest buzzy phrase. For instance he debunks that oft-used term, “change management,” which entered the canon of moderrn business lingo and somehow stuck. As he writes, change management isn’t what leaders neeed to focus on to if they really want to lead change. It’s not enough: “Change management is a follower’s game. Someone else is pushing the buttons, and you are simply responding. When it comes to rapid transformation, strong leadership is essential, and the focus must be on the end goal and the change required to reach that goal. Change leadership is the focal point of our work in driving success.”

That said, he embarks on far more systematic and insightful strategies, all based on the concept of a strong, goal-focused approach. He’s not formulaic — there’s always a good deal of foresight and nuance in the best leadership — but he is practical, and he cuts through a lot of the noise but digging down to the essence. It’s not just inspiring your people that wins the race, it’s anticipating when, why and where they will put up resistance; asking two simple questions (we’re not going to give it all away) can go far to predict how resistance will occur. As for achieving success, he clarifies the difference between that momentary shift that doesn’t actually stick, and a long-term, fundamental transformation — that can be measured in ways that drive continued motivation, and ensure the plan stays on track. 

Among the most profound lessons in Skipper’s handy, very readable book is that first attempts at transformation don’t always work, having too many leaders and a weak bank of stakeholders will ruin the prospects of success, and communicating above the noise — including inevitable misassumptions, rumors, and hearsay — is essential. Further, regardless of the size of the company, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

As he writes, no one changes the same way, and somehow leaders need to be addressing the needs and perceptions of every individual. The dynamic between leading through disruption and enabling (or, at times, subtly coercing) people to come along are constant; what keeps leaders from misfiring and gets them and the organization to successful transformation is a combination of North-Star focus, savvy flexibility, and a realistic understanding of not only organizational behavior, but human behavior. “Support your people in every way possible — training, coaching, removing barriers — to demonstrate that you care about their well-being and success, not just hitting a target.” At its core, leading change is about leading hearts and minds — and Dancing with Disruption lays out the fundamentals with welcome clarity.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Lifestyle and Travel - Book Review: Jeff Skipper’s Dancing with Disruption: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation.
Ladys Patino
Ladys Patino is a writer and book reviewer who specializes in titles on organizations, management, leadership, and communities. Ladys is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.