How to Be a Change Agent

My daughter was in junior high and chomping at the bit to go out for the track team. There was only one problem: she needed new running shoes and we were flat broke.

change agent article by Laura Benjamin

I asked her, “Sweetie, can it wait?”

“No Mom. We start track next week and if I don’t have the shoes I won’t be able to join.”

Talk about feeling guilty. It had been my choice to follow the self-employment path, which meant I gained freedom but gave up a steady paycheck for “income ambiguity”.

Clearly though, it was time for a tradeoff.

We both wore about the same size, so we cooked up a plan where she would borrow my shoes until I could buy her a new pair.

The only catch was MY running routine. I was determined to lose weight and get into shape, so the thought of compromising my own goal wasn’t too attractive.

So here’s what we did. I’d run at the track on her school grounds in the morning. Then I’d stick the shoes in her locker, to which she’d given me the combination. Trusting girl! She’d run with her team in the afternoon and bring the shoes back home from school so we could do it again the following day. It was a scathingly brilliant idea! 

What a team. We were so smart; we thought we could change the world!

You may not want to change the world, but I’ll bet there’s something or someone you’d like to have influence over. Do you want to:

  • Persuade employees to dress more professionally?
  • Encourage a client or co-worker to treat you with more respect?
  • Negotiate expectations in a relationship?
  • Tell your boss “no”?
  • Cope with a non-negotiable change, such as loss, disability, etc.?
  • Get control over your life?

Something for change agents to ponder:

  • Is there really a problem? Name it. Use my CARLA Concept™ to analyze.
  • Decide to be successful. Intend to solve the problem – that’s half the battle.
  • Incremental change is still progress. Few of us go straight from 0-100.
  • Assume there’s plenty for everyone (Habit 4, Dr. Stephen Covey)
  • Tradeoffs are to be expected. What kind of horse-trading will you do?
  • Test a small solution before committing all your resources.
  • Realize you DO know enough, you’re smart enough, thin enough, young enough.

We all want to have an impact, and we can, even if it means we do it one person, one problem, one small opportunity at a time.

I wish I could say my daughter still welcomes my wardrobe suggestions. Those days are long gone. There’s little in my closet she would wear today – and I mean that literally!

Reading Recommendations:

  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries
  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey
  • When Was the Last Time You Did Something New?

When Was the Last Time You Did Something New?

When my eldest son got his first job and began to make money, he opened up a bank account. Then he asked me how to write out a check.

He owed me money, so this was one skill I wanted him to get right!

“You put the date up here on this line,” I said. “Then where it says ‘Pay to the Order Of’ you write my name.”

So he wrote it up, ripped it out and handed it to me.

And on the “Pay to the Order Of” line he had written…



Of course, then he had to cross that out and write my REAL name.

You should have seen the look the bank teller gave me when I went to cash it.

I can’t remember the first time I wrote a check. It’s now such a normal activity, I don’t even think twice about it. (Unless there’s no money in the account.)

I do remember the last time I did something for the very first time, however.

I was nervous. I worried about how I’d feel if I failed. I didn’t want to look stupid in front of my friends.

How about you?

When we ask someone to do something for the very first time, it’s tempting to expect them to get it quickly. Often we hurry them through the process and “fill in the empty spaces” for them. Because it’s a no-brainer for us, we expect it to be easy for them.

Here are five things to remember next time you ask someone to change:

1. Do they know how? You’ve given them the “what to do”, but do they also know the “how to do it”? You may have to spell it out. Not everyone has the confidence to risk failure and it could keep them from trying.

2. Don’t expect them to go from 0 to 100. Sometimes we expect them to reach the goal in one giant leap. Most of us learn new things in increments, one step at a time. Define degrees of success.

3. Expect a relapse. Everyone stumbles and reverts back to a “safe zone” of what’s comfortable and habitual. Don’t give up on them just because they have a setback.

4. Recognize and reward. They’re not all the way there just yet, but find ways to celebrate forward movement. We all need encouragement along the way.

5. Ask for a self-assessment. You may have ideas about how well they’re doing, but be sure to ask them for an update. Let them tell you how they feel about their progress. Ask them to quantify it on a scale from 1 to 10.

My son now writes checks like a big dog! He’s graduated from college, bought a house, holds down a job and takes good care of his wife and son.

But he still calls me “Mom”!