The Only Way Great Change Happens

Here’s how to know things are about to change—dramatically.

I was in an advisory board meeting yesterday with eight of the smartest, most successful people I know. We were going over a specific strategy that I was trying to make work for my company with little success. The initiative had stalled under my watch. The group listened to me talk about the many obstacles and hurdles that stood in my way—some of which seemed insurmountable to me.

I was stuck. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed.

It was then that my friend Rick gave me the gift of some profound wisdom (wisdom that sounded strangely familiar since, ironically, I have given similar counsel to countless clients).

He said, “Mike, when I meet with leaders who say they are stuck, I look for one of two things: pain or vision. In my experience, leaders create change because they have either come up with a vision that is so compelling that it drives them and those around them, or they are so sick of suffering that they know change is the only real option. When enough vision or suffering doesn’t exist in a leader, the company just oscillates.

“So my question to you is this: Do you have a clear vision or have you suffered enough to make the changes you know you need to make happen?”


Reflecting on Rick’s coaching, I knew he was correct. Every significant change in my life has been pulled into reality by a vision of the outcome or simply by stamping out a situation that had become unbearable.

Rick had just asked me if I was ready to change my role in a situation. In other words, he was pointing out that the things that were bothering me were symptoms of my leadership—or lack thereof.


Reflecting on nearly 25 years of business and Rick’s comments, here are some symptoms that show you need to change what you are doing. Each of these foreshadowed a major shift in our business direction, strategy and outcomes.

The AC/DC Moment

Is your job giving you energy or sucking it? The realization that your job is taking more energy than it is giving you is typically the signal to change dramatically.

A Jump-the-Shark Moment

In 1977, Fonzie famously jumped a shark on a jet ski, clad in swim trunks and his leather jacket, in the long-running show Happy Days. This, according to many, was the signal that the end of the show was imminent.

Look for those “last straw” moments with co-workers—you know, the ones where you determine you will never speak to that person about that ridiculous topic ever again. In this highly charged moment, consider what you have to do to make your wish come true.

The Financial Crisis

Nothing says you’d better change more effectively than a banker telling you they are going to take your house if you don’t get your (****) together. ’Nough said.

Public Embarrassment

As a leader, you can only look at the same difficult issue for so long before it becomes an embarrassing reminder of your inability—or unwillingness—to address it. If you can’t fix it, perhaps you need a (Ring)leader who can.

You Can’t Eat Another Bite

Many entrepreneurs start new things when they are under pressure. Then they wake up one day completely overwhelmed by all the things on their plate. When the adrenaline rush from killing initiatives rather than starting them becomes more satisfying, positive change is afoot.

The Panacea Moment

If you haven’t had that moment in the shower yet, don’t give up hope. These moments of clarity absolutely happen. Consider taping the question you are trying to solve on your mirror. Look at it every night before you go to bed. In my experience, your subconscious will often solve these challenges for you. Have vision, will travel.


Building off that last point. Your subconscious has a way of reminding you about issues that you ignore during the day. Sleep is critical and without it, you won’t be a good leader. Are the issues that are keeping you up at night worthy of addressing at your job?

Do any of these ring true? If so, you have suffered enough. It is time for a new vision of the future.

Article originally published June 23, 2014, on


Speaker Kits: videos and brochures