Leadership

How to Rock It as a Change Agent

By / Jul 14, 2019 #ASAE19 Game Changer speaker Brant Menswar. (Handout photo)

#ASAE19 Game Changer speaker Brant Menswar brings a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to leadership. That means knowing how to strike a chord while forgiving your bum notes.

Brant Menswar has spent a lot of time contemplating the connection between a great song and great leadership. Thinking about a meaningful mission statement? Consider how a simple but memorable classic tune can’t get out of our heads. Trying to be a change agent? Think about a sleeper hit that doesn’t connect right away but eventually finds its audience.

What I usually find when I work with organizations is there’s very little forgiveness.

Menswar, CEO of the consulting firm Rock Star Impact, working musician, and Game Changer at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo next month, was inspired to connect leadership and music because he saw from the stage what a song can do to move a crowd. “Music is a fantastic way to get people emotionally invested, and that’s what it’s going to take if they’re actually going to see some sort of transformation,” he said.

Think of a strong mission statement as the equivalent of a memorable song riff, Menswar suggests. “What I love about AC/DC is that you know an AC/DC song within the first two bars—you recognize the guitar before you ever hear the voice,” he said. “They start with this sort of undeniable guitar riff in every song, and in the same light, I think it’s important that we have that level of connection with our core values.”

Easier said than done, of course. If only it were so simple to write a “Thunderstruck”; if only it were so simple to come up with a mission statement that connects. Menswar is sympathetic to the challenge, especially when you’re leading an organization through change. A little persistence, and a few champions, can go a long way in such situations—just consider what it can takes to make a hit song connect.

“There are plenty of examples of songs that came out and flopped, and then some tiny obscure station up in the Pacific Northwest ends up grabbing hold of it,” he said. “They really invest in the song and all of a sudden it becomes a regional hit and people start to look and see what’s going on in that region. … That little cluster of change that was successful can affect an entire organization.”

Unlike the makers of a successful pop song, though, association leaders aren’t in the business of chasing trends—whatever memorable ideas they come up with have to be rooted in the association’s values. “Nonprofit organizations have to define their non-negotiables: They have to say, ‘Here are the four or five core values that we will not be moved from,’” Menswar said. “It’s in the activation of those values that they can live out that purpose.”

Menswar said  organizations often struggle during a change process because people crave simplicity in the face of complexity. Adding to that complexity can be bad memories of the products that didn’t work and the initiative that didn’t take off. Getting back on a path toward success can depend on forgiving your organization’s past mistakes, he said.

“If we can forgive the past failures of a failed launch of a product or some sort of initiative that didn’t hit the mark, then we can move forward,” he said. “But what I usually find when I work with organizations is there’s very little forgiveness. That goes from an organizational standpoint all the way to the personal standpoint of the people who might have been in charge of those initiatives. It’s a difficult thing to do, but when we focus on vulnerability and forgiveness, it really breaks the cycle and allows us to get to these levels of success that require risks.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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