An Evening with Dean Williams and the Adventures of a Global Change Agent: Stories and lessons from the field

with Dean Williams

What an absolutely fascinating evening! This was a highlight event as Dean Williams took us through his journey as a Global Change Agent, but it wasn’t the story one usually hears from those working in this field. Dean is based at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and serves as the faculty chair of the executive education program: Global Change Agents: Leading with Commitment, Creativity and Courage and runs the World Leaders Project at the Center for Public Leadership. This is pretty impressive but it was his experience working with the heads of government and industry that had us enthralled.

Dean’s presented his “10 Lessons” for Change Agents and made them really come alive through his stories and experiences in the field. Those lessons are:

1. We live in crazy times and it is going to get crazier
2. Change agents help people face reality
3. Leadership and authority are different
4. Real leadership is creative work to deal with realities
5. Change agents help people transcend the tribal impulse
6. Change is not linear – it is chaotic
7. Change agents take advantage of “leadership moments”
8. Have a powerful sense of purpose, but don’t be a crusader
9. Help people sustain loss or they might kill you
10. The change agent has a passion for wisdom

Dean’s journeys include places such as Borneo, Madagascar and currently Myanmar. He openly shared his love for this work and the people he worked with. We were privileged to share his wisdom through some amazing experiences in very remote, tribal and dangerous regions of the world. He interviewed and worked with heads of state, leaders of militia and people living in very 3rd world conditions, and through it all was able to understand the reality of people’s day-to-day existence and challenge to survive. It was through these stories that we had such a great learning experience. Other key learnings, include:

Change is boundary transcending work
– See things as they really are by being present, not distracted and being still
– Real v Counterfeit leadership – counterfeit occurs at the expense of dealing with reality
– Leadership is a connection to others, humility without pretence & attention to detail
– Change agents must do thinking work, not just have thoughts
– Resistance to change or engage in change is often a reflection of (anticipated) loss
– The change agent needs a passion for wisdom, curiosity, openness & good at helping
– Consider the pace of change – too much reality v too much avoidance.
– Work through the defence mechanism that stops people from engaging in change

His final piece of advice was that as a change agent:
– Don’t do the work alone
– Have a good network
– Have good humour
– Have certain practices to get a perspective
– Be grounded

I would suggest members check out our short interview with him below. Dean is the author of “Leadership for a Fractured World: How to Cross Boundaries, Build Bridges, and Lead Change” (Berrett-Koehler, 2015) and “Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges” (Berrett-Koehler, 2005).

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