“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Mark Schwartz had just taken on his role as CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when the team hand delivered a huge book of rules to his desk. He had just asked the team why it took months, not days or weeks to build and deliver a simple single page website. “Here is why,” his team said pointing to the tome of regulations and rules. They carefully explained the large number of procedures and approvals required to do something that seemed so simple.

Mark was determined to simplify the process and improve the speed. As he read through the enormous volume of rules, he discovered many legacy controls that no longer applied, yet required motion by the team. Like organizational scar tissue, the rules had been crafted to respond to some incident or fear and then spread to cover a vast domain, even if it was outside of scope. They were outdated, inflexible, irrelevant and at best, ineffective.

“This is bureaucracy!” It needed to be eliminated. He immediately started to tune the processes and eliminate the needless rules. Now, you would expect a cheer from the team impacted by this, right? Surprisingly, that’s not what happened. Instead, it resulted in an uprising! The authors of the rules began to appear in his office to protest. His own team resisted the change. Those rules, despite their pain, had become a comfortable crutch for the team. They depended on them to know they were doing the right thing. Even the team that was harmed by them was defending them. But why?

As he talked to them, he came to realize that they were not trying to block progress, they were trying to protect the country, the organization and the individuals applying for citizenship. Their intentions were good! He listened to them. He asked more questions. They explained their concerns and their motives. He told them how he understood and appreciated them and their efforts. He asked if they could work together to change the rules to be more efficient and relevant, but still address their key concerns and motives. The geometry of the energy in the room changed dramatically. Suddenly they were all behind his efforts to improve the rules. Over the next several months they slimmed down the bureaucratic book of rules to a manageable size and more importantly, unlocked the speed and potential of teams trying to deliver features and new websites for the organization.

We often make assumptions. We have a tendency to cast a reality into place that we invent by ourselves. We can even be guilty of assuming malintent of others when that is not the case. A superpower that awaits every leader who chooses to wield it, is the power of listening. As Mark discovered, the bureaucracy that was created by individuals at USCIS was not intended for evil, but for good. By reaching out to those who crafted the rule book to understand their intent, he unlocked the door to improvement. By listening and understanding, he forged a new reality into place that profoundly changed the dynamics from resistance to revolution. The authors of the previous reality willingly enlisted to rewrite the new one. The results were significant.

Do you want to change the world? If so, reach out to others. Ask Questions. Listen. Like Mark, we may discover a good story that will completely rewrite our understanding and forever change the trajectory of our progress. Go on! Listen.