Switch – Why you want to add this to your leadership toolbox.

A Summary of

Switch How to Change Things When Change is Hard

By: Chip Heath and Dan Heath

While not specifically directed at the concept of leadership, Chip & Dan Heath shared straightforward strategies for dealing with change and making it last.  It’s a challenge often faced by leaders, whether you are leading a cross country team, a class of students or your own family.  Making the change not only stick but have noticeable results is a skill worth learning.  Written to include practical strategies enhanced by real life examples, the Heaths offer practical ways to address the changes in your life based on research compiled from a variety of disciplines including psychology and sociology. It’s one of my all time favourite audio books.  The stories keep you engaged and help you to remember the key points.

The Heaths explain that everyone of us has two sides and use the comparison of a rider on an elephant to help you better understand how the brain works.  The rider is the rational part and the elephant is the emotional response.  In order to make change stick you need to get the rider and elephant going in the same direction.  Chip and Dan Heath outlined three key parts to successful change.  First, you must direct the rider.  I was drawn to the research they shared that when we focus on the bright spots or what’s working, we begin to see more ways to make the change work.  In short, focus on the positive examples.  Yes we can learn from the negatives but research shows focusing on the positives will generate better results.

Second, you have to motivate the elephant.  You will exhaust the rider if you don’t get them both going in the same direction.  Willpower only lasts so long.  The Heath’s noted several examples, but what stuck in my mind is that identities can change.  What type of identity and growth mindset is linked to your team?  The innovator identity of Brasilata stands out in my as a powerful example of how changing the mindset of your team can truly transform the long term results for the better. What type of growth mindset do you carry with you?

Lastly, you have to shape the path.  Do you realize that it’s not always the people that are the problem?  The Heaths noted Lee Ross’s fundamental attribution error research that is our “inclination to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than the situation they are in” (p. 180). If you tweak the environment, the situation, the context… how people respond changes.

It’s well worth the page turning read.  The Heaths share big business, education and personal examples of how these strategies can make a difference.  As with anything these research based suggestions aren’t a quick fix and you have to commit to leading the change; however, this book offers practical ways to reflect and shape the change happening around you.  Whether or not you want to do the work is up to you.

Leadership Connection:

  • Leaders are often called upon to lead the change or implement the initiatives.  Regardless of whether or not you are the president of the company or an employee, the skills you use to cope with change ripple out to those around you. The opportunity to build your toolbox and help others grow through change will change your relationship with others.
  • As an educator, the strategies offered here are applicable within a classroom, school or division level; moreover, teaching your students to navigate change will be one of the most valuable skills they can take with them into their future.

Additional Resources:

  • At heathbrothers.com you can register for a variety of free resources that highlight key aspects of the book including a summary pdf, workbooks and podcasts.

Heath, C., & Heath , D. (2010). Switch How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Toronto: Random House Canada.