Change and Loyalty — Can They Coexist?

Change and loyalty make strange bedfellows. Both are critical elements for an organization to succeed; but many times they work in opposition. It may be necessary to break long-standing ties in order to advance, or honor commitments, despite the dampening effect they have on change. It can be a difficult and tumultuous balance.

I was reminded about this again watching the Gophers football team go through a trying week. Not much was expected from this team at the beginning of the year. The combination of a very young defense and a difficult schedule made it unlikely for any breakthroughs. Then last Saturday, they lost to South Dakota, a small state school with a very thin resume. Suddenly, low expectations became anger…it’s been a long week.

Rufus Ferguson PosterNow, I grew up in Wisconsin at a time when the football team went 0-22-2 during one stretch. The Badger teams I grew up with ranged from mediocre to abysmal. Crowds ranged from 50,000 to 80,000, and then back to 50,000 again. There was minimal expectation of winning, and it was finally economics, not just bad play, that brought radical change and winning to Wisconsin.

We face the same thing with Minnesota. Years of mediocrity have dampened the strong football tradition at Minnesota. A (barely) winning record and a trip to a minor bowl game were viewed as success. The university made an aggressive move to change this mindset. They built a beautiful new stadium and hired a new coach to bring the program to the next level.

Sometimes making aggressive moves don’t bring the results we expect. Last Saturday was a prime example. On a beautiful day in the splendid stadium, the team suffered a difficult loss. I’m not sure what it is, but Minnesotans love to howl. They howled on Saturday (and for the rest of the week) about coaching and defense and offense and turnovers and…you get the point.

The coach’s lunch on Friday was interesting. It was a packed house – a supportive group, backing the Gophers and honoring the 1960 National Championship Team. Some surely came to leer and sneer, but this is Minnesota and “Minnesota Nice” silenced the critics for the day. Coach Brewster came early and did a stand-up job of interacting with people in the room and delivering a decent talk. Still, it was a difficult personal situation.

If you’ve been a leader facing adversity, you’ve faced the same thing. Your back is pushed up against the wall with few good options available to you. Chances are it’s a situation with a lack of success, sometimes with visible failure that you caused. The people in the room are looking to you for answers and reasons to jump on your bandwagon. Of course, if things don’t change, that bandwagon will run you over.

Tim BrewsterSo now what happens?

It’s a difficult situation. Do you start over from scratch or persevere with only minor changes? Do you stay loyal to the choices and commitments you’ve made? Or do you make wholesale changes, knowing it will take precious time for those changes to take hold and erode the loyalty you have created?

It’s a difficult choice – one that’s critical to make effective change happen!


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September 2010
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