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Mustang Sally rides again

It amazes me how threatening it is for the status quo to embrace change. As a change agent, I’ve sure taken my share of hits for shaking things up in the business world. But, these battles happen everywhere.

My latest one is in my own neighborhood, but it serves as an example of the fortitude we have to have when we are mustangs sounding the call.

There have been several instances of violent crime in my very lovely waterfront neighborhood in Clearwater, Fla. This is a neighborhood that has one of the highest tax bases in the county, yet police back-burnered it for patrols when confronted with budget cuts. In recent months, we’ve had a handful of assaults and an influx of street crime.

So, I hosted a neighborhood meeting and invited the police to talk to us. Nearly 80 people showed up. I announced a blog where we would post photos and stories, and the reception was thunderously positive — except when it came to the people who have been running the neighborhood association all along. Tell me, what is so threatening about a neighborhood blog? Apparently plenty. One of the old-timers said the blog will reduce property values. Good grief. Street crime reduces property values.

Anyhow, I am relating this story because it is a template for what most change agents experience whenever they come up against the status quo. Remember, the status quo is the status quo because it does not like change.

The association called a meeting last night using the e-mail list from the meeting at my house. In recent years, only a handful of people have gone to their meetings, but last night, there were more than 70. The biggest item on their agenda: Telling us to let them run things because they know best. My favorite moment came when they said they would post times of future meetings on the neighborhood website. Someone asked what the web address was and they acknowledged they don’t have one yet. So, I volunteered to put the notices on my blog and I was told that my very popular neighborhood blog is basically unauthorized and has nothing to do with the change the neighborhood is seeking. I told them that it was my understanding that our neighborhood was still located in America.

I thought of something Miriam Reed said in my book, Mustang Sallies. Reed is the former division chief of the Denver Police Department who suffered blatant discrimination and harassment for many years. Her words are so powerful:

“Almost every idea that changes the status quo starts out with, ‘You’ve got to be crazy, it will never happen,’ ” Reed said. “But, if you can last long enough, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Things move from, ‘You’re crazy,’ to, ‘We can talk about it, but it won’t work,’ to, ‘I guess we’ll give it a trial period, but it won’t work,’ to, having the trial period and it works well, to the person in power saying, ‘It worked well because I proposed this idea a long time ago.’ That has happened to so many women over the years. The accolades and recognition go to someone else when other people finally say, ‘Why did they do it the wrong way in the first place?’ ”

My little neighborhood. I don’t care who is in charge. I don’t care what website is used. I just care that we get on top of this troubling situation now, before it gets worse.

The next time others try to hold you down or put you in “your place,” remember this conversation I had with the legendary journalist, Helen Thomas, for Mustang Sallies:

I confided, “I keep being told that I don’t know my place.” “What is your place?” Thomas shot back. “It’s what you say it is. It’s not what they

say it is.” Thomas had been through enough battles to know she was and always will be a mustang woman. Until I met her, I didn’t realize that’s what I was. I’d just thought I was a misfit. An outsider. Instead, I was a trailblazer.

It doesn’t matter whether the battle is in the boardroom, the neighborhood association or even in your own family. Change is tough. But the rewards of progress are huge. Have confidence to hold your ground and keep moving forward.

Be bold!

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courages and creative leadership strategies.

  1. I totally understand where you are coming from. Communication is a huge issue in my community and the board does nothing to address it. I designed a neighborhood website system called Neighbor Online and offered it to my community free of charge and offered to administer it as well. They completely shot the idea down worried that it might empower home owners too much and threaten their authority.

    I wanted to go through the board, but now that they rejected the proposal, I am still planning on launching it regardless. I realized that I do not need the board’s permission to communicate with my neighbors. I now plan to act as the community media source and publish my side of the story on the site.

    Change is very difficult and the older the people you are trying to convince, the more difficult.

    Benjamin Subercaseaux

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