What Hamilton Can Teach You About Change Leadership

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

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 problems-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

Kotter, J. P., & Whitehead, L. A. (2010). Buy-in: Saving your good idea from getting shot down. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.

Miranda, L. (2015). Hamilton: an American Musical [MP3]. New York: Atlantic Records.

Stanier, M. B. (2016). The coaching habit: Say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever. Page Two.

About the Author:

Jeff's knowledge and expertise include change management, organizational design, and strategic planning to grow organizations. Jeff has experience from start-ups to Fortune 50 public, Forbes 25 private, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across diverse industries. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit his blog at for more ideas to stimulate individual, team, and organizational effectiveness.

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