The Leadership Lesson of Beanbag Chairs
Explain the 'why' behind the 'what' - when leaders connect change to purpose, people follow.
WRITTEN BY: ADAM DANYAL
The office was strewn with beanbag chairs in a rainbow of colors. Like oversized pieces of candy, they beckoned people to relax into their squishy embrace. It was 1997 and the dotcom boom was on. Companies were reinventing what it meant to work, tearing down walls both literal and figurative.
But when the CEO spotted workers sinking into beanbags during work hours, he banned them immediately. Productivity nosedived as people griped about the loss of their beloved chairs. Morale plummeted.
In hindsight, the CEO realized his mistake. The beanbags were not the problem. His failure to explain the reasoning behind removing them was. People felt their needs didn’t matter.
As leaders, we must choose change carefully. When we must take something away, we need to explain why - openly and honestly. Only then can people understand the “why” behind the “what.”
That’s what great leaders do. They connect change to purpose. They don’t just dictate that things must be different. They explain how each change connects to the team’s higher aims.
Whether it’s restructuring workflows or implementing new policies, change disconnects people from the familiar. Like losing a comfy beanbag chair, it disrupts their sense of comfort and control. As leaders, we must counterbalance change with meaning.
How do we do it? Share the reasons candidly. Ask for input. Connect changes to values and purpose. If people understand the rationale, they’ll support change even when it’s hard.
Leading change isn’t about issuing commands. It’s about painting a vivid picture of how change links to mission. When people grasp that connection, they’ll walk the path with you.
From our Leadership Bookshelf:
WRITTEN BY: JULIA DANYAL
As leaders, we know change is crucial for growth. But enacting real change can be challenging, especially when it requires people to alter their habits or mindsets. How do we motivate lasting change, even when it's difficult? The book “Switch” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath provides insights on leading people through change effectively.
1. Appeal to emotions - help people feel something needs to change by connecting it to their identity and values. Stories and experiences work better than statistics.
2. Clarify the path - break down change into concrete steps. Give clear guidance on how to take action. Make the first steps small and easy to build momentum.
3. Rally the herd - enlist influencers to spread the word and role model desired behaviors. Social support helps cement change.
The key is ensuring people understand why change matters and how they can take ownership of the process. With vision, guidance and social support, people can make changes stick. Leading change requires empathy, clarity and community.