September 28, 2006

Howard Dean’s Lessons in Leading Change

Today, the major challenge that faces us is changing the direction of our country. No one underestimates the seriousness of the task or the difficulty. Under Bush and the radical right, we are heading towards a type of world will be significantly more dangerous, more violent and more destitute as well as bereft of the capability of making good decisions. We are in the midst of losing every chance we have for charting a path to a world that can face the looming challenges of global warming, totalitarian fundamentalism, diminishing oil reserves and fresh water with dignity, with intelligence and with compassion which embraces the entire planet.

So how does one change direction when there is so much momentum on the other side? And I remind you, that side thinks nothing of exploiting any tragedy to grab more power while seeking every chance to viciously sabotage anyone who stands in their way. They are relentless in their pursuit of power and are always waiting for another chance to move the bar further to the right. We must find effective ways to make change happen before it is too late.

In the business world, when large organizations look at how to bring about major change of their culture and their direction, they often start with some advice from John P. Kotter, the author of the book, Leading Change, published by the Harvard Business School Press. John Kotter is the content expert for the Harvard Business School’s Change Management course and is a frequent speaker at top management meetings throughout the world.

In his book, he provides an eight step strategy for realizing lasting change in large organizations and I believe we can use this strategy to help reclaim our country. In fact, in my opinion, Howard Dean is following the strategy outlined to transform the Democratic Party though the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Here are the basic steps of Kotter’s strategy:

• Establish a sense of urgency.
• Create a guiding coalition.
• Developing a vision and a strategy
• Communicating the change vision.
• Empowering broad-based action.
• Generating short-term wins.
• Consolidating gains and producing more change.
• Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

So let’s look at what Howard Dean is doing to lead change.

Establish a sense of urgency - check
First of all, it is clear that Howard Dean deeply understands the urgency of taking back our country from the radicals that are ruining it. Dean is a passionate and committed Democrat and he knows that the only institution that can be used to enact the change needed is the current Democratic Party -- a party that was almost moribund even while the Republicans were clearly on the march. Yet, Dean also saw during his presidential run that there are a lot of passionate and committed people throughout the country that he could tap who also understand the urgency.

Create a guiding coalition - check
When Dean ran for President in 2004, he made strong connections to a number of the Democratic state parties and numerous activists. He found that they too were hungry for reform and that they were ready to work to revitalize the party from the grassroots up. When Dean ran for the head of the DNC, although the Washington-based Party put forward their own candidates, the enthusiasm for Dean from the Democratic activists made his election inevitable. They are his guiding coalition.

Developing a vision and a strategy – check
Reviving the Democratic Party means making the party stand for more than simply a party that shows up at your door every two years to ask for your vote. And it means refusing to be confined to the blue states. The vision that Dean and his coalition have is a competitive party in every state and a party that works for Americans even when there are no national elections. And how are they going to achieve this? By enacting the “50 State Strategy.” As described in an article reviewing Dean’s first 100 days as head of the DNC:

His plan was to focus on all fifty states, cultivate candidates at all levels of government, and get paid grassroots organizers on the ground immediately.

Communicating the change vision – check
Dean and the party activists have been very effective in communicating their vision for the party to Americans. They are using the mainstream national media, the local media, the bloggers, the internet, and the radio. And communication is reinforced by numerous meetings, conventions and speeches.

Empowering broad-based action – check
Howard Dean has always been a Democrat, but after his run for President with the People-powered campaign, he now believes even more in democracy with a small "d." His goal is to empower all levels of the party to act.

"I’m not much of a Zen person," he remarked upon accepting chairmanship, "But I’ve found that the path to power, oddly enough, is to trust others with it. That means putting power where the voters are."

And this year, articles show how the changes are being spread deep into the party.

Over the past year, the DNC has hired and trained four staffers for virtually every state party in the nation--nearly 200 workers in all--to be field organizers, press secretaries, and technology specialists, even in places where the party hasn't been competitive for decades. "It's a huge shift," Dean tells U.S. News. "Since 1968, campaigns have been about TV and candidates, which works for 10 months out of the four-year cycle. With party structure on the ground, you campaign for four years."

Generating short-term wins – check
2006 will go down as a wave election year (where the majority changes hands) if the current polls hold which show that Americans want Democrats to take control. After the 2004 election, the conventional wisdom was the Democrats would have a very difficult time in taking over the House because there were so few competitive races – especially with the mid-decade Texas reapportionment devised by Tom DeLay which gave an additional 10 seats to Republicans. However, as the year has gone by, the number of competitive races in both the Senate and the House has increased significantly as voters have become angrier with the direction of our country under Bush. Because Dean has focused on making the local parties stronger, now everywhere a race can be contested, the party was able to find candidates to field.

Waid and other state-level operatives say their beefed-up parties have also helped in candidate recruiting. "If you can show a candidate you have the support infrastructure to get them elected, he'll run," says Jerry Goldman, party chair in McCormick County, S.C., who now works closely with his state party. "You have to show a candidate that he's not out there by himself." In Arizona, Democrats have candidates in every legislative district for the first time in a decade. "Successful candidates for Congress come from winning offices at the county or municipal level," says Arizona's Waid. "We build that farm team, and it enhances our chances for taking back Congress."

Of course, November 2006 will be a critical test on whether power will shift to the Democrats in the next Congress, but without the 50 State Strategy, the focus on a few select races would have precluded being strongly competitive this year.

Consolidating gains and producing more change – tbd
If Democrats can reclaim the House and (with a strong wind) the Senate, it will be time to build on their success at the ballot box by continuing to drive change with further reforms. The next major goal is to take the Presidency, and to reclaim the government so it is accountable the people. After the disastrous Bush administration, many enormous challenges remain to turning our country around and putting it on the right track. An energized and engaged citizenry can be the key to producing the change needed for the long run.

Anchoring new approaches in the culture – tbd
The final challenge for making this change endure will be to make sure that all Americans are welcome to be part of the solution and not just observers who show up once every two years. And perhaps a Constitutional Convention could help fill the holes that allowed too much power to be put in the hands of one group. This stage is extremely important as the price of sliding back to the today’s status quo would allow the bad ideas and bad governance that have been the hallmark of the Republican government to come back and haunt our Constitutional democracy once more.

[Ed: This was another of my articles written for the Vox Populi Nebraska eZine first published in the August 2006 issue.]

Posted by Mary at September 28, 2006 07:26 AM | US Politics | Technorati links |

Sunday elections will be held in Austria.

Posted by: ccoaler at September 28, 2006 10:42 PM