Provision #236: Be Versatile

Laser Provision

We’re getting close to finishing our acronym for BRAVE. Be Bold, take Responsibility, Act, and be Versatile. BRAVE people are not wedded to a single course of action and they certainly don’t think they have all the answers. BRAVE people continuously adapt and change as part of their own journey for personal and organizational transformation.

LifeTrek Provision

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the country mouse who went to visit her cousin in the city. The city was an exciting place, with all the action and lights. But it was also a scary place, with danger seemingly lurking around every corner.

Once, while the two mice were out on the town, they were chased down an alley by a ferocious cat. The country mouse was sure that all was lost, when the city mouse found a small crevice around a sewer in which to hide. The cat paced back and forth in front of the crevice, knowing it was just a matter of time before the mice would have to come out.

All at once, however, the city mouse took a deep breath and let loose with an enormous barking that sounded like the approach of an even more ferocious dog. The cat ran off and the mice went safely home. Needless to say, the country mouse was very impressed. “What was that?” she asked later. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” “In this town,” replied the city mouse, “it pays to be bilingual.”

That brave little mouse was on to something here. It’s not enough to be Bold, to take Responsibility, and to Act. In the acronym for BRAVE, we’ve come to the point where it’s important to say that it’s also important • as demonstrated by the city mouse • to be Versatile. In a world that’s constantly changing, sometimes dramatically in a single day and other times gradually over time, versatility may prove to be the most important part of courage.

It comes up continuously in all the leadership books. By definition, leaders are change agents. Managers keep the operation (and the status quo) running while leaders move the operation forward. Or to quote Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus in their classic book, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” The difference, they note, is one of mastering routines (efficiency) verses vision and judgment (effectiveness).

Unfortunately, many leadership books (including Bennis’ & Nanus’) fail to talk about the most critical aspect of the leader as change agent: having the courage to change themselves in the process of changing the organizations they lead. One notable exception is the book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within by Robert E. Quinn. “There is an important link,” Quinn writes, “between deep change at the personal level and deep change at the organizational level. As we leave our comfort zone and step outside our normal roles we learn the paradoxical lesson that we can change the world only by changing ourselves.”

The worst leaders think of change as something everyone else has to do. Their visions of the future and of how they want to get there make them doctrinaire, dogmatic, and demanding. “Shape up or ship out,” is the message. These leaders frequently have an answer before they ask a question, and that answer seldom involves changing their own behavior. As a result, they end up committed prematurely to a course of action and exposed unwittingly as fearful pretenders to the throne.

There is, however, another way. People can be versatile in their handling of themselves and their organizations. They can recognize that innovation, risk, and change move from the inside out. They can experiment not only with new organizational visions and models, but with new personal visions and models as well. They can learn another language, if you will, in order to navigate their way through the sometimes tortuous and often hazardous journey of personal and organizational transformation.

No wonder there are so few versatile leaders in the world! Who has the courage or the time to change themselves? Such people are far and few between. Easier to show up with everyone else’s marching orders, full of advice, coercion, and checklists, than to pay attention, encourage choice, and build trust. Easier to bluster our way through than to confront our own inner demons of immaturity, selfishness, and resistance to change. Easier but not better in the long run.

Quinn compares the versatile leader to those mythological heroes who go on a journey for personal enlightenment and collective renewal. “In embarking on the journey,” Quinn notes, versatile leaders “must leave the world of certainty. They must courageously journey to a strange place where there are a lot of risks and much is at stake, a place where there are new problems that require them to think in new ways.”

Do you have the courage to be a versatile leader? Look at yourself in the mirror of your organization or your family. Do you like what you see? Versatile leaders have the courage to change themselves and the world around them. There’s no hubris about what they know and no triumphalism about “my way or the highway.” They are not wedded to a single course of action and they certainly don’t think they have all the answers. Versatile leaders continuously adapt and change as part of their own journey for personal and organizational transformation.

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Reader’s Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. These selections do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. They do reflect the diversity of those who read Provisions each week for support and strength on the trek of life. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Greetings from New Zealand. I want to take this opportunity, to thank you all for the input that you have had into my life this year. This year has been a really challenging one, but by the grace of God, and the input that I have received from you all, it is ending on a high note, and, next year I know is going to be a great one. I look forward to your continued input next year.

I was remembering that it was quite some time ago that I first received a petition protesting the treatment of women in Afghanistan.  As I dug back into my memory, I am almost positive that I received it from you.  First, I want to say “Thanks” for sending it on.  Do you remember when you sent it?  I didn’t save the original message, with the date. (Ed. Note: The petition is still available on the Web at

You’re doing what I have longed to do for as long as I can recall, but I’ve had some important life lessons to learn. With the right qualifications, what’s the chance of facilitating and/or teaching, and broadening the reach of LifeTrek?  Eager for your response.

I found you thru AvantGo. At first I thought it was superficial. On reflection, maybe the form encourages that perception.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
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