Cheese, Change, and Cheyenne

Your signature characteristic as an executive will be how you respond to change.


Here’s a bit of verse for you, courtesy of country music legend George Strait:

She said, “Don’t bother comin’ home
By the time you get here I’ll be long gone
There’s somebody new and he sure ain’t no Rodeo man”
He said, “I’m sorry it’s come down to this
There’s so much about you that I’m gonna miss
But it’s alright baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne
Gotta go now baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne”

This post is about Cheyenne, and getting tangled up, and moving on, and dealing with unexpected change, and keeping on.

“Well, that didn’t go so well, did it?”

Have you ever had a meeting, project, job, or career move that resulted in such a polite evaluation?  Probably so. Things happen.  It’s how you react to things that will define your leadership profile and quite likely your career. It’s how you react to unexpected outcomes that will define you in front of your family, your friends, and your fellow professionals.

Life is full of surprises. Some of them are good, some of them not so good. We all have choices to make in how we respond to surprises.  Unfortunately, it’s human nature to do two things with surprises:  First, we like to take credit for favorable ones.  Second, we like to lay blame on others for negative ones.  These tendencies–taking credit and placing blame–are probably all around you, even if only in nuanced fashion.

How do we ignore credit and blame and just work to move on?

First, let me say that it’s hard.  A defining aspect of my role in the business community is that I have the opportunity to listen to many people who are in transition.  Executives are moving around all the time, and it’s easy to hear from them when your network is deep and your ears are open.  They really fall into two categories:

Category 1 transitioners are people who are focused on “why this happened.”  They fall into a cycle of diagnosis of what got them where they are.  They are focused on what they did right or wrong.  They get bogged down in blame and misunderstanding and pain. They find reasons that they were right and that others were wrong.  I’ve been there.

Category 2 transitioners are people who are focused on “what is happening next.”  They are the ones who recognize change for the opportunity that it is.  They work to define the next thing as quickly as possible. They get off the dime.  They move on.  They look forward. They hurry.

You want to know a little secret:  You don’t have to be an executive in transition to fall into these two categories.  You are in sales?  Fight to maintain a Category 2 mindset.  You are leading a company through a strategic change?  Yep… Category 2 is your ticket.  You are choosing a CEO to lead your company?  Look for Category 2 characteristics.

Category 1 people are caught in the credit/blame cycle–a perfectly natural but fully unproductive place to get caught. I won’t try to insult your intelligence beyond saying that Category 2 folks are the ones who are more successful in normal businesses and organizations.  They are also a lot more fun to be around.

They have a concept of what is possible next.

They have their Cheyenne in mind.

They are in a hurry.

Oh, boss, you don’t think it’s going to work out between you and me?  Ok.  I really liked it here, but I understand.  Gotta go now.

Oh, prospective client, you didn’t like my last and final sales pitch?  Ok. I have an appointment to make for later today if I can hurry.

This is not a post about surrendering and leaving at first difficulty. It’s about knowing how to move on when it is, in fact, time to move on.  I’m not saying have no memory or accountability for the past. I’m absolutely not saying what in the past does not matter.  I am saying that if you let it define you it will sandbag your next steps more than you’ll ever realize.

Author Spencer Johnson has sold 26 million copies of his famous book Who Moved My Cheese?.  The book is a parable about a couple of rodents who get too used to eating cheese that is in the same spot every day.  One day, the cheese is no longer there.  One rat sits still and frets.  The other?  It ties on the running shoes and gets going.

Change readiness (perhaps change openness) is a simple concept.  It’s also a concept that will define you for better or for worse.

Gotta go now, baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.

What do you think?

2 replies
  1. Richard Miller
    Richard Miller says:

    I my high school years I was given a scholarship to a highly regarded preparatory school, the type of life changing opportunity that one rarely gets. Mid-way through my senior year I was expelled with a number of other students for an infraction involving tobacco and alcohol (zero tolerance was not invented by baby boomers). My dreams of a prestigious university and future seemed to be in tatters, and the train ride down to Greenville, SC was one of the longest of my life; anticipating the disappointment of my father. When I got there he immediately began talking about options. What the local high school would accept in credits, attendance at a local college, even private school options that would have a been a burden. It was all about what we do from here. He did not really dwell on my lost opportunity until long after I was back at school and even then it was more about taking responsibility than regrets. I think it was the single most valuable lesson about life that my father ever gave me.
    I will never know how things might have turned out had it not happened. But I do know it would have been much worse if I had let it become the focus of my life rather than another learning experience. I also learned that what seem like a train wreck at the time looks more like a speed bump in the rear view mirror of 40+ years.

    • Geoff Wilson
      Geoff Wilson says:

      Richard: We talk about the notion of resilience, but far too often really just mask our bitterness with a happy and positive face. Your story is a great reminder not only of the notion of change readiness, but also of how our change readiness as leaders rubs off on those less experienced. Thanks for the comment.


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