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Change Agents: The Heart and Soul to Enacting Disruptive and Enduring Departures from the Status Quo

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”  –Machiavelli

This is part one of a two part series that speaks to the profile of Great Change Agents and the leadership competencies that are required to become a great (not good) Change Agent – a Change Agent who becomes the heart and soul, together with other Change Agents s/he recruits, to drive disruptive and enduring departures from the status quo.

First, a few words on the profile of great Change Agents. Courageous and driven by the need to simplify complexity and ambiguity, they are generally high-potential, high-impact leaders who recognize that an organization can and must continuously improve.

I speak from more than 20 years of experience as a serial Change Agent. While it wasn’t by design, I’ve consistently pursued roads less traveled in the course of my career, starting off, for example, as a professional equestrian,  having graduated summa cum laude with an Economics degree and ultimately becoming a serial Change Agent as an operating executive.

Having been entrusted with the leadership of several disruptive transformational initiatives in corporate America, today I work with leaders and leadership teams whose business models need re-imagined and executed with excellence, and leaders who themselves are at significant inflection points in their careers.

I derive a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from working with, for example, the CEO and leadership team of a high-growth company that is having to re-examine its cultural norms, organizational structure, various management and communications disciplines and many of its policies and procedures to stay ahead of the rapid growth and deliver with excellence.

I’m also working with a senior leader at a large bank who is re-imagining the organization’s brand strategy and internal and external communications processes. That leader is now in the process of a significant restructuring to position for the break-through execution of the strategy. And I’m coaching a senior leader at a large financial services institution who was brought in from the outside to bring its vast global security operations into the 21st century – against a backdrop of a highly change-averse culture.

We hear a lot about the importance of Change Agents to any kind of transformation. Yet 70% of attempts at disruptive departures from the status quo fail. What distinguishes good change agents from great change agents – the heart and soul to enacting disruptive and enduring changes to the status quo?

  • Great Change Agents see a future that others do not and are often considered visionaries. Their foresight allows them to get ahead of an oncoming disruption or impending obsolescence. They also possess the courage to speak up, galvanize people, keep them emotionally engaged and get their buy-in to achieve breakthrough results. Their well-planned communications prompt personal curiosity and stimulate a willingness and positive bias to action. Where people need assurance and hope that visions for the future are worth working toward, great Change Agents arouse strong self-belief and inner confidence that change is indeed possible (belief in the possibility and its achievability).
  • Great Change Agents appeal to the heart (emotion) and then the head (logic). They see leaders in a sympathetic if not empathetic light. They are trusted and leverage it, having developed relationships based on trust and commitment. Their personal relationships enable them to bridge disconnected groups and individuals. They are mindful of their relationships with influencers, cultivate fence sitters and handle resistors on a case-by-case basis by hearing them out and being open to the roots of their opposition.
  • Great Change Agents are not afraid to make decisions that go against dissenting opinions and do so with conviction and ownership of consequences, demonstrating that their intentions are motivated by the best interests of the organization. This drives high levels of trust by their stakeholders.
  • And, finally, great Change Agents are unlikely to give up easily. They are in for the long haul with all of the messiness and the twists and turns that characterize the accomplishment of highly transformative initiatives. Moreover, they not only follow through on commitments but seek opportunities to make commitments to seeing change to breakthrough outcomes.

Now that you have the profile of a great Change Agent, are you ready to take the next step? Download my five secrets to becoming a Change Master.

And stay tuned for my next post that will speak to the leadership competencies great Change Agents (vs good Change Agents) need to build and strengthen to achieve high and enduring impact when a significant departure from the status quo is needed.

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