THE LONELY ROLE OF A CHANGE LEADER – DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
THE ROLE OF A CHANGE LEADER
Our organization helps organizations through large scale change, bringing an interdisciplinary and human centered approach to operational transformation. Our most successful projects have one very important player right in the middle of the mix – the Change Leader or Change Agent.
I personally have fulfilled this role in nearly every job I have held in my career, and I can share from personal experience that it can be a lonely place to be. But, it is also one of the most rewarding opportunities that one can have in one’s career – to see that a change is needed, and to move forward in pursuit of that new future despite the barriers and obstacles in your path.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He/She does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his/her actions and the integrity of his/her intent.” – Douglas MacArthur
The role of a Change Leader is not usually something that one is assigned to take on – it is in the core of who one is. To be a change agent takes courage, it takes commitment to a possibility, a future that others cannot see. It often requires ruffling of feathers and a sense of urgency when others see no danger, no need to change.
QUALITIES OF A GREAT CHANGE AGENT
Change agents are often seen as a threat, or as alarmist by their peers. In fact, they are just the first to see the challenges on the road ahead, and they have already envisioned a new future where these challenges have been met, and overcome. They are optimistic at their core. There are a number of additional characteristics that successful change agents must possess:
- LOW LEVEL OF ANXIETY
- ACTION ORIENTATION
Of course, a Change Leader who is not also the CEO or equivalent must have the support of the CEO, and the authority to drive change, even in areas of the organization that they are not responsible for leading. But in addition to this, they must provide:
- SENSE OF URGENCY: show compelling case for the change
- LEADERSHIP: increase trust and team work
- VISION: commitment to achieve the intended results
- COMMUNICATION: address resistance; engage people
- ORGANIZATION: align behaviors, actions, and outcomes
- QUICK WINS: show new direction, practice behaviors
- CULTURE: visibly show new behaviors
- ENGAGEMENT: align people, process and rewards
THE HARD (BUT WORTH IT) PART
With this type of Change Agent at the helm of major change, many (but not all) of the individuals impacted by the change will be guided through the various stages of loss and uncertainty that come with change, ultimately engaged in and contributing to the shared vision for the future.
CHANGING FOR GOOD
Our own organization, Future State (previously TechProse) went through a major transformation. We have changed our business model, our name and brand, our location, and most of our team since 2010. All of us that led this change, and all of us who were impacted, experienced pain along this journey, and made mistakes along the way. We persevered in the face of despair, knowing that the only way forward was through the challenges we were facing. As we emerge from this challenging (and exciting) period, we find ourselves able to bring profound appreciation of the challenges our clients are facing, and empathy for the journey of a change agent.
Agents of Change, we see you! We appreciate you, and we are rooting for you. You got this!
 Making Sense of Change Management by Esther Cameron and Mike Green (2004)