Eric’s Blog

Showing what’s at stake can show the path to change

A critical function of leadership is successfully moving organizations toward change, especially in times of crisis and volatility. But what are the key components of that narrative? How do leaders “frame” what’s at stake effectively? How do they explain what is to be gained from the change and even more importantly, explain how to get there?

Nancy F. Koehn, of Harvard Business School has some practical and useful approaches in her book “Forged in Crisis – the Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times” (John Murray UK) Professor Koehn tells the story of five historical figures facing terrible crises and how they were able to surmount them.

One of the most powerful examples is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; 272 words spoken in less than three minutes on the site of one of the Civil War’s deadliest battlefields:

Koehn identifies five elements from Lincoln’s famous speech today’s leaders can use to “frame” the stakes, increase understanding, inspire action and finally, show the path to change:

  1. Connect the current change efforts to the history and future of the enterprise or organization
  2. Tie the change to what’s happening today
  3. Explain each stakeholder’s role in the process
  4. Identify the specific trade-offs of making the change
  5. Understand the costs in relation to the goal

Koehn writes “…every modern leader navigating through a crisis can learn from the Gettysburg Address. We are unlikely to approach the eloquence and power of Lincoln’s language. But we can take from his leadership the critical importance of framing the stakes of a particular moment.”