This is the third article in an ongoing series about understanding and managing personal change. It draws deeply from personal and professional experience and from many generous people who’ve shared their ideas.


I was lucky: When I was seven years old, my parents separated and, following a difficult period of many months, they divorced. Though often marketed as a moment punctuated by a civic or ecclesiastic certificate of nullification, divorce can span years–decades even–and its effects run through families like a viral epidemic–difficult to contain and capable of potentially devastating results.

For me, watching my parents dissolve their vows–literally and metaphysically–and feeling their pain, awkwardness, sorrow, and anger was a deeply painful, humbling, and altering experience. Not only that, but observing my siblings struggle with their interpretations added layers of complexity to already desperately challenging times.

Looking back, the situation reminds me of the moment when a firm in peril decides to implement a turnaround strategy in hopes of cutting losses and surviving.

Divorce and turnarounds are all about managing change if they’re about anything.

With divorce, for example, families might change their organizational structure, their business model, their cost structures. Their top and bottom lines will likely change. They might change their risk management strategies, their policies, their future visions, and their daily operations. All of this must be managed–especially when children are involved–while maintaining some balance, consistency, discipline, and morale. Imagine two parents who are turning around a family for the very first time. Not so easy.

The upheavals of divorce can create an environment wherein children experience complete loss of connection to the facets of life once imagined fundamental, unquestionable, permanent, and essential. The values, behaviors, and culture of the family they’d known–core beliefs, trust, respect, and the ability to imagine the future can disappear from sight–vanishing before their eyes.

In firms and families, turnarounds must be skillfully led, and employees and children must secure good counsel if they wish to contribute and survive.

A boss once extrapolated an important lesson for me: “Lucky,” she said, “ is that moment when you are prepared and when an opportunity knocks.”

Divorce–on several levels–turned out to be that way for me. However unprepared my parents were for the work of salvaging their marriage, they were absolutely prepared–and they had prepared us kids, too–with a foundation of core values. Each in their own way, they were honest, fair, humane, compassionate, and optimistic.

The opportunity presented itself through an application of the many-to-one relationship: Divorce taught me to actively seek role models, teachers, and mentors to complement the angles my parents’ couldn’t cover themselves.

Early on, I found out it’s not as easy as it looks to pick a role model. I made mistakes. I was duped a few times. I got hurt occasionally. My need for role models persisted, and I learned to judge character.

Over time, and through the generosity of good people, I built a rich framework of deep relationships, which have extended far beyond the family boundary, and which have run as deep and with boundless rewards.

After I finished the EMBA, when we set up the Transition Room on our dining room table in California, I reflected on my beliefs and values. My wife and I asked ourselves the questions, “What do we want?” and “What do I want?” and we examined our beliefs and values against our answers to these questions in order to create and articulate a meaningful vision and a plan.

I grouped my ideas into 4 categories of principles and behaviors (my P&Bs), which draw ideas and concepts from culture, religion, right vs. wrong, values, psychology and self-awareness, business, family, the arts, and Nature. I catalogued my mentors, and put into words what I admired about them.

My vision took shape by centering my passions around the most important core values my parents and mentors had modeled for me, which I made my own.

© John Dila 2009

To be continued.