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What Hamilton Can Teach You About Change Leadership

If you have not seen the musical, Hamilton, you need to add it to your list of future shows to stream or visit once Broadway reopens. Throughout the play, one very entertaining song repeats a quote from Aaron Burr to Hamilton that he needs to "talk less and smile more." Surprisingly, this is excellent advice for those with ideas to create lasting change in their organization.

Most organizational changes, up to 70%, do not succeed because of a lack of buy-in (Kotter and Whitehead).

Utilizing questions to help others gain new perspectives, is a high-impact method for change, regardless of the topic. Productive conversations to help others transition involve talking less by asking more questions and smiling more instead of convincing your audience with your suggestions.

Setting the Stage for Your Change Idea

Until a need for change is established, leaders will not likely consider a solution. So, after presenting data supporting the need for change, you should begin the conversation with a question. Merely starting a conversation with the question "I am curious, what is on your mind?" and following that question up with, "And what else?" to learn more is a powerful opening (Stainer).

How to Talk Less and Smile More

There are two basic types of questions to influence positive change. There are solutions-focused and problem-focused questions. Both types of questions are useful, although solutions-focused questions are more effective at increasing understanding and eliciting a positive response. Solutions-focused questions are "how-to" questions rather than questions that explore the causality or "why" types of questions. The reality is that no conversation is ultimately solutions or problem-focused, and coaches need to move between the two approaches to meet the leader's needs. The basic theory behind the finding is that focus on solutions to work toward change is more positive and energizing for those engaged in the conversation than focusing only on the problem.


Grant, A. M., & O'Connor, S. A. (2010). The differential effects of solution‐focused and problem‐focused coaching questions: A pilot study with implications for practice. Industrial and Commercial Training, 42(2), 102-111. doi:10.1108/00197851011026090


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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