I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Who Moved My Cheese?” book by Spencer Johnson. Johnson does an excellent job of simplifying the complexities of the change process through the use of four fictional characters. I believe the author intentionally chose to use two mice and two “little people” in the parable about change. The mice, Sniff and Scurry, deal with change rather simplistically. Being animals, the mice are more adaptable to change and react to the loss of the “cheese” instinctively. They “keep their running shoes around their neck”, waste no time analyzing the cause of their loss, and immediately go in search of a new cheese. On the other hand, the “little people”, Hem and Haw, are about the size of the mice but possess human traits. Such traits as intelligence and emotions complicate their responses to change. Hem and Haw react emotionally to the loss of the “cheese” and waste valuable time analyzing their loss instead of going in search of a new “cheese”. Haw eventually moves beyond his emotions and uses his intellect to successfully face and overcome the sudden change. However, Hem’s paralyzing fear of change prevents him from successfully overcoming the loss of the “cheese” and eventually leads to his untimely death.
It is through the characters’ responses to change or the “moving of the cheese” that many leadership qualities can be identified. I have chosen to identify the qualities in reference to their implications for an educational leader such as a school principal. Like Sniff, the leader of a school must view change positively, realizing that change is inevitable and occurs naturally over time. As principal, one must stay on the cutting edge of change by keeping abreast of the latest educational information through reading, attending conferences, networking, etc. Once change appears to be on the horizon, then it is time to “scurry” into action.
The principal must not react to change impulsively but should be prepared with a plan of action in order to provide guidance toward the intended goal. Like Scurry, the principal and faculty must understand that the path to change will be filled with obstacles or setbacks. They must not become discourage by these obstacles and should continue to find new paths that will allow them to successfully find a new “cheese”. The energy and positive attitudes of faculty members who resemble Scurry should be utilized to assist the principal in leading the school successfully through the “maze” toward change.
Haw epitomizes the human reaction to change. From Haw’s reaction, one can clearly see the change process evolving. As a principal, having an understanding of the change process, realizing that this cycle is natural, and knowing that everyone will uniquely experience the stages of change will be beneficial. Like Haw and Hem, the principal and faculty must realize that when faced with sudden change the initial reaction will be fear of the unknown. This reaction leads one to deny the need for change, take change as a personal attack, and over-analyze the causes for the change. But like Haw, we must get beyond this stage if we are to successfully change. As principal, one must realize that a more immediate acceptance of change will result in an easier transition to change. Therefore, it is important for the leader of a school and the faculty to view change as a way of gaining something rather than losing something; as a better solution not something worse; and as what is right rather than what is wrong.
Once Haw accepted that change was necessary, he took on much of the same qualities as Scurry. He found his “running shoes” and set out in search of a new “cheese”. Unlike Scurry, Haw became discouraged and anticipated going back into his comfort zone each time he was confronted with an obstacle in the “maze”. Although Haw returned several times, his positive vision of the goal and the realization that he would starve forced him to set out again in search of the new “cheese”. The principal, along with the faculty, must realize that the second stage of change will be comparable to a roller coaster. It will begin with a burst of energy and be slowed by each obstacle along the way. However, the principal must be the engineer that places the faculty back on track and provides a new boost of energy.
The final stage of change occurs when the goal is realized. Like Haw, as one begins to taste the successes of change, he/she realizes that it was not as fearful as one first expected and begins moving quicker toward making the change a reality. For the principal, this will be the easiest part of the change process because the reality of change will occur naturally. Throughout the change process, it is important for the principal and the faculty to remain optimistic and confident and to have a sense of humor.
In concluding, the principal must realize that not everyone will accept change and continue through the change process successfully. Like Hem, there may be people on the faculty that are paralyzed by their own fear of the unknown and will never get past the emotional stage. They will continue to take change personally and spend all of their time and energy analyzing why change is not needed, the causes of the change, and waiting for the “old cheese” to return. As an educational leader, acting like Hem would be “professional suicide”. For faculty members representative of Hem, it would be important to provide these individuals with many opportunities to understand the reasons for the change; to help them understand that their fear and emotions are a natural part of the change process; and to help them see that the refusal to change will lead to ineffective teaching practices and ultimately their “untimely death” professionally.