Traditions are everywhere: families have traditions, schools have traditions, churches and corporations have traditions. People worship, teachers educate, governors govern.
Traditions acknowledge our accomplishments (educational). Traditions spark our imagination (vision). Traditions foster confidence. Traditions seep into the most mundane of our daily routines. To put it simply, tradition(s) adds value to our lives.
But tradition is also a double agent, an evil genius, if you will. It can spark imagination, but it can also snuff it out. It can foster confidence but it can undermine initiative. Tradition can express meaning through shared beliefs or create mundane events that isolate our understanding. When it adds value, everybody loves it. When it becomes Dr. Evil, everyone despises it.
Tradition(s) grows out of formative life stories. Most people love a tradition because they know the story that gives life to it. Remember when Hewlett Packard merged with Compaq? This was a battle of narratives: HP employees and board members knew change was imminent. How? They told and retold the HP story, the Hewlett Packard Way which served as a guiding force to its corporate mission, vision, and values. A merger with Compaq would mean a loss of this fundamental narrative.
Alas, all traditions, it seems to me, have a limited life cycle. This means that at some point tradition gives way to change.
Leaders know the value of change. But they also must also respect tradition. To Lead, consult, and manage change we must become experts at uncovering the narratives that spawned the tradition. When we understand this narrative we are then equipped to provide a new narrative; a narrative that respects the past, but fashions and tells a new vision that inspires new processes, new activities, new "traditions".
To be a great leader, respect tradition while making room for change. Really, the bed is beg enough for both. And in point of fact, one can't exist without the other.