Leading Change

From the CEO


From VOTE, VOLUNTEER, RUN to VOTE, VOLUNTEER, LEAD!  Sharp eyes may have noticed a change to the key tasks AVV outlined for Veterans as they continue their Service to their communities.  Leading is something all Veterans understand from their own service.  It’s central to the progression of all service members, in rank and in responsibility, from entry to exiting their term of service. Running for office – not so much.  But a recent experience gave me new perspectives on the relationship between running and leading.

AVV was invited to participate in a recent forum for U. S. Senate Republican candidates in Fredericksburg.  Six candidates attended (two had surrogates) and AVV had the opportunity to offer questions addressing Veteran issues.  All the candidates showed clear concern for the needs of both Veterans and service members who call Virginia home.  Some had their own service or the service of family members to help frame their responses or highlight their understanding.  But even those without direct ties to military service offered full support to Veterans – from housing to medical to business and education support. All get full credit for this.

I found it difficult to differentiate or rank these candidates based on what they said on Veteran questions and other questions on the border, economy, schools, and personal freedoms.  I admired them all for their commitment and willingness to step into this difficult race.  They all were road weary but ready to explain their calling to serve.  They all could tell the audience why they were passionate about running.  Their qualifications and justifications were strong across the board.  And their policy positions were agreeable, if not, in some cases, too safe.  I realized that what set the strongest candidates apart were their comments on how they intended to lead change.  These comments translated ideas familiar to this audience into tangible actions that would unite voters, win elections, and improve lives.

Desire and empathy are good but not enough.  Personality or resume aren’t sufficient.  Even good policies too often just perpetuate tired or useless process.  It takes a leader and leadership to frame the vision, ignite energy and purpose, unite powerful teams, overcome inevitable obstacles, and persevere to make change happen.  Running is not adequate when leadership is what is needed most.  While we need to understand the values, commitments, public record, and political positions of candidates, it is vital that we also base our vote on who can best lead change.  The times and the way back to unity and national strength demand this.

Difficult times and tough choices are not new concerns.  As a leader, I have often looked back to a reference I’ve kept on my bookshelf for years – a book, not surprisingly called, “Leading Change” by John Kotter.  In this book, the author references his long study of successful and unsuccessful enterprises and offers some lessons learned.  Every enterprise is different, political enterprises certainly so. But let me offer a short framework of action steps to consider as we evaluate campaign rhetoric and choose our candidates and cast our votes.  Those who can make change happen:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency – Combat complacency
  2. Create a Guiding Coalition – Inspire the power of teamwork
  3. Develop a Vision and Strategy – Link task and purpose to outcomes
  4. Communicate the Change Vision – Over communicate; ensure the coalition models the expected behavior
  5. Empower Broad Based Action – Encourage risk taking and new ideas
  6. Generate Short Term Wins – Reward and recognize change as it happens
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Action – Build and sustain momentum
  8. Anchor Change in the Culture of the Organization – Change will not self sustain


Think for a moment about the leaders you admire and the change they brought.  How did their actions align with this set of criteria.  As you evaluate choices ahead in critical elections, use your own criteria, of course.  But look at the outcomes, the changes you want to see, and the character as well as the leadership abilities of candidates to accomplish those changes.

In all cases, help AVV get Every Veteran, Every Vote to the ballot box where true change can happen.

Veterans Forward!

Bob Wood


CEO, American Veterans Vote