The 21st Century Change Agent: The CEO As A Social Architect

  • 17 Dec 2010 12:00 AM
The 21st Century Change Agent: The CEO As A Social Architect
The 21st Century is proving to be a turbulent, volatile era, and chief executives who’ll successfully lead their organizations will have one thing in common—they’ll be the Social Architects of their organization, designing systems for consistent high performance.

Orchestrating From Behind the Curtain

Social Architects understand their organization and how it works. They know who says what to whom and what kinds of actions are taking place. Principles of high performance are subtly transmitted that bind the organization together. Social Architects create the understanding, participation and execution of the change; they generate the commitment to principles and values toward the change; they present a shared interpretation of organizational events, teaching people how they are expected to behave; they serve as a control mechanism, rewarding and reinforcing required behaviors to accomplish the change; they provide the context and system of change that brings about commitment from all stakeholders

Managing Interdependent Relationships

Interdependence occurs when two or more people have power over each because ironically they depend on each other to accomplish their own personal objectives. Social Architects manage up, down, across and outside the organization—power is achieved by gaining cooperation without formal authority. Managing relationships is tested by the willingness and ability to deal not just with individuals, but also with human systems comprising of many inherent interdependencies among and between stakeholders throughout an organization.

The Change Paradox

Social Architects devise systems that help employees manage the inherent paradox between change and stability. Continuity is a process of continuous, but relatively small change efforts. Continuity provides a range of options along the change-stability continuum. The goal is to define the relationship between the past and the present. Social Architects move their organizations forward by understanding where they’ve been, where they are and how they got there.

Social Architects recognize that long-lasting change starts individually by getting people to understand how they work best and what they need to do to progress the organization. Continuity begins with a micro-pragmatic view, empowering individuals and then spreads throughout the entire company in an organizational tidal wave.


Executives don’t fit nicely into a box. No executive is a purebred—everyone is a mutt—and they adopt leadership strategies from here, there and everywhere. They use what works for them rather than conforming to a particular theory. Any change in the management process, organizational structure and leadership style must all support the desired end—change. Words, symbols, communication, recruiting and training don’t go far enough. Beliefs must be changed in order for actions to change.

Only then will change occur and take hold. 21st Century Change Agents turn intention into action. It’s not just altering the organizational mission. It’s not just altering the organizational chart. It’s not just altering the human resource systems. Social Architects engineer the political and cultural forces that drive the entire organizational system. Successful change is illustrated by preserving the best of what has preceded and moving toward a profitable future.

It’s proactive, not reactive. It’s developmental, not instrumental. It’s holistic, not segmented. It’s appreciative, not evaluative. It’s hopeful, not filled with despair and fear."

By Stephen Long, PhD for

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