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Inside the Change Leaders Mind – the mind-set shifts that makes change successful

Do Change Leaders think differently from the rest of us? I have long been fascinated by the mind-set of leaders who embark on any change process. What triggers them to act, how do they think when they start the change process and how does their mind-set evolve to affect their ability to succeed?

The evidence I have observed in my +32 years working in the field is that all Change Leaders have at least one thing in common. That is their dissatisfaction with the status-quo and a restlessness to do something about it.  They hanker after a better state of affairs and can articulate the gap between their organisation’s current reality and where they would like it to be.

Let’s call this the DELTA mind-set and it is a clear starting requirement for an effective change mandate to be developed. The ‘watch-out’ here is that Change Leaders who succeed with sustainable change do not simply default to their own perspective, rather they complement their views by talking to a diverse group of people who live and work across their organisation. They keep an open-mind and proactively seek divergent perspectives, as they know there is compelling scientific evidence that proves that the greater the diversity of people involved in defining any current issue landscape, then the greater the accuracy of the starting point for change is well understood.

Once the state of the now is fully understood, the next mind-set shift successful Change Leaders adopt is that of the Game Changer. In this mind-set they once again diverge and seek views and opinions that enable them to craft a granular and desirable future state for their area or organisation. Being able to play with ideas, almost in a child-like fascination is the key to success here. Holding onto ideas and thoughts, some of which may be wholly impractical or indeed heretical at first consideration, is a key characteristic of the successful Game Changer mind-set.

I have observed that there is nothing quite as dangerous in any organisation as a single idea, firmly held by a senior Change Leader! It can all too quickly become a new unassailable truth.

Successful Change Leaders know that once the ideas begin to flow a new desirable future state begins to take shape, there will be plenty of pragmatists and Polishers who will unleash their concerns and the death of the new idea process will begin in earnest.

When confronted with this seemingly resistance to change, the successful Change Leader has to adopt a resilient mind-set, becoming the protector of new thinking, adeptly turning objections into objectives and giving new ideas at least a chance to draw breath, before they are culled at the brutal alter of pragmatism.

Great Change Leaders also recognise that pragmatists are usually acting in good faith and with positive intent. They are sharing concerns in a desire to ensure that the all too scarce change resources that every organisation has, are deployed behind an idea that they consider has a chance of success.

Once ideas for a future state are in play then the Change Leader mind-set changes once more to that of a Strategist mind-set. In this state the Change Leader is considering the best path to take to move from the current to the desired state.

Should it be a fast surgical intervention such as a radical transformational change programme, or will a steady-away continuous improvement programme create the required momentum and desired outputs?

There are pros and cons with all change approaches both fast and slow, wide and deep and a wise Change Leader will consult the University of Life and discover what the organisation has succeed with in the past and what it has learned from any failure to change. Insights such as these can inform how best to approach any change and the route and speed of the change journey that lies ahead for their particular area.

What has to be avoided, but unfortunately is all too common in my experience, is a Change Leader with a fixed mind-set, usually based on the leaders own personal experience of successful change in their previous organisation. Any form of fixed mind-set can be fatal to the success of a new change journey and the University of Life lessons will not be ignored. Failure to attend the seminars dooms the Change Leader to attending class again and again until the lessons are learned once and for all!

The most successful mind-set to adopt throughout the change journey is a flexible mind-set. An experienced Change Leader has to be able to judge when to switch from a ‘diverging’ mind-set; gathering thoughts and insights from others; to a ‘converging’ mind-set; summarising and taking decisive action.

In short Change Leaders have to start and remain curious longer and rush to action slower if they are to make their change process both successful and sustainable.