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Leading Change from the Middle

A Practical Guide to Building Extraordinary Capabilities

Jackson Nickerson

Publication Year: 2014

Bookshelves abound with theoretical analyses, how-to guides, and personal success stories by famous corporate leaders, public officials, even athletic coaches, expounding on how to lead from the top. But what about those in the middle who are increasingly tasked with trying to reshape, reorient, or recreate the capabilities of an organization?

Leading Change from the Middle takes you on the journeys traveled by Kurt Mayer, an information technology executive in the Department of Defense trying to build a new IT system in record time with limited resources, and Stephen Wang, a mid-level leader in city government trying to build a capability for supporting commercial agriculture. Kurt and Stephen have to navigate complex organizational and stakeholder landscapes in which they often have few decision rights and few resources—a common scenario for mid-level leaders. One succeeds; one does not.

While following Kurt and Stephen, the book introduces a new approach for increasing the likelihood of successfully leading change. This new approach breaks down into three core strategies: First, identify all relevant stakeholders and partition them into four categories: superordinates, subordinates, customers, and complementors/blockers (those who control needed resources but over whom the leaders have no authority).

Second, for each stakeholder category, identify Communications, Strategies, and Tactics (referred to as CoSTS).

Third, don't stimulate negative emotions that make people DEAF—Disrespect, Envy, Anger, and Fear—to efforts to produce change. As the book follows the journeys of Kurt and Stephen, it walks through the details of each strategy.

In presenting this material in a concise, accessible, and applicable format that translates theory to practice, Nickerson provides an important service for leaders trying to build extraordinary capabilities for their organizations—from the middle.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Front Cover

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Series Info, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Several years ago my business school dean asked me to lead the renovation of an educational organization—frankly, something that academics like me are not trained or developed to do. The organization in question, Brookings Executive Education (BEE), is actually a subunit of a larger organization, the Brookings Institution. I thought the challenge was particularly complex. ...

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1. Leaders in the Middle and Their Challenges

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pp. 1-19

Colonel Michael Nichols, a no-nonsense rising star in the U.S. Army, recently moved to a new position in the Pentagon where he was handed a problem he was determined to fix, ASAP. Though of average height, average build, and average looks, the colonel was not a man of average intensity. ...

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2. The Journeys Begin for Kurt and Stephen

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pp. 20-28

The task of leading change to build new capabilities arises in all organizational contexts: private for-profit firms, government agencies and units, not-for-profits, universities, hospitals, cooperatives, professional societies, and other similar settings. Therefore it is impossible in a short work such as this to cover in depth the myriad challenges faced by midlevel leaders charged with this task. ...

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3. Categorizing Stakeholders

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pp. 29-43

The first step of the Leading at the Crossroads of Change approach is to identify and categorize all relevant stakeholders. As this chapter makes clear, there may be a surprising number of relevant stakeholders. They will vary in their motivations and in ways that can materially affect the midlevel leader’s implementation plan both positively and negatively. ...

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4. Leadership Approaches to Each Category of Stakeholderes

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pp. 44-98

Success in building new capabilities depends in part on customizing a midlevel leader’s approach to each distinct category of stakeholder. That means Kurt and Stephen should engage their superordinates differently from their subordinates. But are there times when they can use the same strategy for all stakeholders and times when they must customize to each category or even each person? ...

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5. Avoid Making Stakeholders DEAF

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pp. 99-110

Will Leading at the Crossroads of Change always work? The simple answer is no, it won’t. No approach to leading change can guarantee success in building extraordinary capabilities in every project. Various aspects of human nature can undermine such efforts, especially in certain circumstances. ...

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6. How Do Kurt's and Stephen's Journeys End?

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pp. 111-122

It is time to return to the journeys of Kurt and Stephen to determine the usefulness of Leading at the Crossroads of Change as a road map for leading change from the middle. When Kurt and Stephen set out to build extraordinary capabilities, they each had well-defined destinations in mind but could not be certain of arriving there. ...

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7. How Can You Lead Change?

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pp. 123-126

The purpose of this book about Leading at the Crossroads of Change is to provide a road map for midlevel leaders like you who are attempting to build extraordinary capabilities. During your journey trying to reach this desirable destination, you can increase the likelihood of arriving on time and within budget by following three particular routes: ...


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pp. 127-138

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815725237
E-ISBN-10: 081572523X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815725220
Print-ISBN-10: 0815725221

Page Count: 137
Publication Year: 2014