Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of “going upstream” to do prevention work rather than reacting to the results. In his book Upstream, Dan Heath makes a compelling argument as to why that is where we should invest our time.

He is also is clear that upstream work is chosen. Unlike emergencies where people jump in to react, those who pursue prevention efforts choose the work without an urgent mandate imposed on them to do so. They know that they are not the ones who created the problem, but volunteer (or, more likely, feel compelled) to try to fix it.

Heath points out that we label as heroes those who dramatically come to the rescue of others, but often ignore the more quiet upstream heroes who prevented tragedies in the first place: the engineer who wrote stronger building codes to prevent people from being trapped in fires; the public servant who clarified and communicated evacuation plans; the policymaker who wrote prevention efforts into law. He urges us to do more to acknowledge the quiet heroes who keep the day from needing to be saved.

Maybe your role as a change leader involves the front-of-the-house advocacy to engage and persuade allies, or maybe your role can make an impact from behind-the-scenes change. Regardless of how you do it, I hope that you feel called to dedicate some time toward whatever vexing problem is upstream in your industry or community. People are drowning in a multitude of broken systems and we need your leadership to begin to fix it.


I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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