The 6 traits of great change leaders 

The 6 traits of great change leaders

Change is no simple task, no matter what the books or consultants might say. Whilst the benefits may be many, the emotions, physical and mental development required and the practical implications of change mean that we all ‘struggle’ in different ways when asked to change

During the organisational change that I have observed, helped to facilitate and lead, there have always been 6 key traits exhibited by the leadership team; for and with their people:

  • Compassion
  • Humility
  • Authenticity
  • Narrative
  • Goals
  • Enthusiasm 
How are you measuring up? Let’s take a look…
Change is about letting go of past and current habits, bonds to working practices and feelings and approaches that took time and energy to commit to. It’s also about building emotions to an (as yet) uncertain future and taking the time to understand the emotions, concerns and excitement of those within (and on the outside of) the change ahead. 

Compassion is also about identifying and ensuring that we fill the voids created by the change. You cannot leave an empty space where something would have been, the space needs to be replaced by something new, whether it be emotional or physical. 

Showing compassion doesn’t mean that we take those on the journey who are not willing to make the change or able to, even if they see it’s benefits, but it does mean that we can show compassion towards the emotions and reasons that have caused it and ensure we have given direction or autonomy as needed before making decisions on a persons desire.

As human beings, we are compelled to work with, follow and support those who can acknowledge, support and challenge the emotional connections individuals, teams and work forces have to the past, present and future. Ensuring you apply compassion and understanding ahead of, during and following the change will mean others will follow and not feel forced to change.

Questions to reflect upon
  • How much compassion are you showing ahead of, during and following change? 
  • Would your people agree and would your customers?
  • If you don’t show compassion, how likely are your people when the going gets tough?
Change has so many facets, twists and turns that no one person can deliver organisational change alone, or has all of the answers. By recognising the ability of others, the insight, skill, support and passion that those around you can bring, you will increase the level of engagement, co-responsibility and commitment to the change proposed. In turn, you will share the challenges and successes of the change throughout and ensure a far greater outcome.
This doesn’t mean letting go of your ambitions, but it does mean leading the change, finding others to govern and manage it, design it, support it, deliver it and work with you to evaluate it. Create a great governance process to ensure you deliver the aims you seek together and work less hard than you will without it.
I know this sounds like standard project fare but I’m sure you’ve seen as many project as I have, where this is in not in play. It wears you as the ‘leader’ out and undermines the part your people want to play.
Questions to consider:
  • How humble and open are you being towards your people and their ideas about how the change can be achieved? 
  • Would your people agree? 
  • Would the person on the street?
  • If you aren’t humble enough to be open, why should your people?
Change requires faith, on some occasions, ‘blind’ faith to a future that has not yet been seen, touched or (as yet) realised. A key requirement within effective change is to be authentically true to yourself your values and your people. This requires being truthful about the benefits of the change as you see them and the why of that change. You need to be open about the challenges you will face, your optimism about how readily you can overcome them together and outline why the challenges you will face are worth overcoming, in the short, medium and long term.
This doesn’t preclude you from being solution focused or from driving for change, it just means that you’re self aware enough to know that your people can spot when you’re trying to paint too rosey a picture and being open creates trust.
Questions to consider:
  • How honest are you being with yourself and your people about the benefits and likelihood of successful change, the expected highs and lows and the demands that will be faced? 
  • Would your people agree? 
  • Would the person on the street?
  • If you don’t believe, why should your people?
Change is so much easier to accept when it is tangible. Take the time to attach the envisaged future to the past and the present by telling the story of how your organisation has successfully changed before. 
Discuss and highlight examples that have occurred previously and talk your people through the journey you’ll go on together; talk them through the plan, it’s stages and the intended milestones. 
Creating a change narrative heightens the recognition that change happens all the time and that you can and will get through change as you have all done before. Paint pictures of how this time will be different and how it will be similar. Describe how the change will either build on the great company you have or regain the greatness you once exhibited by describing what will be seen, heard and felt along the way and at its fruition.
Questions to consider:
  • How clear are you being with yourself and your people about the journey you’ll go on together and the difference that will be seen at the end?
  • Would your people agree? 
  • Would the person on the street?
  • If you can’t help your people to touch, taste, think, feel, see and hear what the future will bring, how do you propose that they will grab it with both hands and either pull themselves or it towards it?
Change cannot be recognised, celebrated or ‘tweaked’ if it cannot be measured. Ahead of the change agree what you want to achieve, see, hear, think and feel at the end of the change and at key milestones throughout the change. This will enable you to demonstrate progress and celebrate successes with your people and evaluate ways to build on that success.
We all need to believe that we are moving forward and that the changes and benefits we envisaged are being realised. Not having a clear goal (or narrative) in change, is like being told to “go and have a look and you’ll find it”, without being told what ‘it’ is or how to find it.
Questions to consider:
  • How well defined are the outcomes you seek?
  • Have your goals been co-created and bought into by your people or are your people being forced to change?
  • Would your people agree? 
  • Would your customers?
Change brings out the best and worst in others and before we move forward we need to believe that the outcome is possible and that we all hold the energy to make it happen. Be positive about the future and most of all yours and your peoples ability to make that change possible. If you don’t believe, why should they? And if you can’t believe in your people and they can’t believe in you, why should they come together to make the change happen?
Questions to consider:
  • What would need to change in order for both myself and our people to be able to take this step?
  • What could both myself and our people do to facilitate the change we seek and what will be the impact on them and our overall ambition when we do?
  • What if we don’t do that?

For 3 ways to use this article…
I hope you’ve found the above thought provoking. One of the key elements for change is the “how” of making it happen. If you’d like 3 ways to use the above to enhance your chance of change success, click HERE

If you’d like more answers…

If you or your people would like more answers or are unsure of how to proceed; drop me a note or a call, I’d love to speak with you

Who am I? Stefan Powell…

I am yourleadershipcounsel, a father, husband, part time rock star and passionately bonkers about helping leaders get the most from themselves and their people.

What my clients have said…

Stefan has a great skill as a coach in his ability to ask insightful questions at the most opportune times. This enables detailed interrogation of critical situations and has facilitated significant shifts in my thinking to take place. I  have no hesitation in recommending him and his excellent work.” Vanessa Clarke, Director of Undergraduate Leadership Development Programmes at Birmingham City University

Read more testimonials here: Testimonials


One thought on “The 6 traits of great change leaders 

  1. 3 ways to use the blog; The 6 traits of great change leaders  – Stefan - Your Leadership Counsel's Blog

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