A Leader’s Greatest Treasure When Navigating Change

David McCullough illustrates how knowing your history and identity is a vital leadership strategy for navigating change. David refers to our nation. You can apply this to your company, as well.

This is how a skilled leader responds to change and uncertainty:

I clearly see what’s changing and understand how I and others will react.

Therefore, let’s take a deep breath and spend some time recalling how we got here, the challenges and changes of the past, who the players were, why they did what they did, and what we can learn from it.

Let’s spend some time (not too much, but just enough to steady ourselves and clear our minds) to remember who we are, our values and our mission, for those will be a guiding force as we evaluate what we need to do and make sound strategic decisions moving forward. Besides, it’s helpful to consider what is not changing at a time like this.

David McCullough is such a leader. He expresses this insight in his own words as part of the Introduction of his latest book, The American Spirit – Who We Are And What We Stand For.

The speeches included here have been selected … with the hope that what I have had to say will help remind us, in this time of uncertainty and contention, of just who we are and what we stand for, of the high aspirations that inspired our founders, of our enduring values, and the importance of history as an aid to navigation in such troubled, uncertain times.

David McCullough

The American Spirit

My hope is that you will do the same when your business and teams are experiencing times of change and uncertainty.

If you are, then replace “The American Spirit – Who We Are And What We Stand For” with “My Company’s Spirit – Who We Are And What We Stand For”.

Challenging times have a way of creating a different kind of “identity theft”. I explain it here. The sense of what your brand is can become unclear both inside and outside the organization. The sense of your team’s identity, even your own identity can falter. Working to reverse this is essential before you plan to take action. It’s foundational.

Are you navigating change?


Revisit your plan, or if you don’t have one, start with this: succinctly define the beliefs and principles behind all you do as an organization; how you conduct every aspect of your business; how you treat customers, employees and vendors; how you achieve excellence. These are your Values.

Next, succinctly define your Mission; *what* you do, *who* you do it for, and *how* you will get there. Your definition should cover employees, customers, partners, vendors; all stakeholders.

Now define or affirm your Identity. (If you don’t have one, call me.) Start with this: name three qualities that are true, good and unchanging about your organization. You’re on your way to strengthening your brand.

Do these, and you’ll find the work powerfully energizing.


Make time during suitable meetings, and especially during leadership development workshops, to recount and discuss the stories of the changes your organization has navigated in the past.

Before we delve into each new leadership strategy during my workshops, we reflect on a significant time of transition for the organization in the past. The stories of setbacks, advances, management changes, acquisitions and the like are remembered. What makes these especially powerful is when someone in attendance has a personal story to share. They lived it. They learned from it. By the time we get through all eight leadership strategies, everyone has heard eight stories about the journey of their company. The attendees have a brand immersion experience through this and it galvanizes them.

Again, my hope is that you’ll choose to apply David McCullough’s wisdom as you lead yourself and others through change.

Remember, the people who plan to be their best as they navigate change are going to be the most successful.

My best to you,



One of my favorite moments is when one of the interviewers quoted David’s book saying, “You told graduates in 1994, “If you’re happy, you think better.” Similarly, when you are at your best, you think better and more clearly, have better ideas, are more creative and make better decisions. When you are at your best, you are happy.