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Inside the mind of a Change Leader

What makes change leaders different?

Change leaders have a number of attributes and insights that set them apart from the crowd. What are they and what drives them to succeed?

I have been fortunate enough to work with many great change leaders who lead organisations around the world. Whilst they are all unique individuals, with their own personalities and proclivities and challenges to face, they all tend to share some similar characteristics.

Think Long Term

The first characteristic they share is that they have a broad time horizon. Often much longer than those who follow them. They tend to have an acute sense of where they are in the arc of their own career and understand in some detail what success looks like for themselves and for the organisations. They are ‘towards’ people and they lead with mid to far term goals in mind.

Put simply, change leaders recognise that they are playing the long game and know what winning looks like.

This makes them attractive to follow, as we all want to work for someone who can clearly articulate the destination they are leading us towards and who can instil the confidence we need for the journey ahead.

Awake the Desire to Change

The second characteristic is their ability to awaken the desire for change in others. This can be done in several ways and great change leaders are skilled at attuning their communications so that it resonates with their followers. This ability draws on a rare set of skills. Change leaders intuitively understand that commitment to change is not generated through transmission from above. They have the ability to tell stories that engage both the head and the heart of their followers.

Personal Humility and Resilience

The third characteristic they all share, is dogged persistence and the emotional agility to use setbacks as springboards for change. Great change leaders have a Growth mind-set they fail-forward, treating failure and setbacks as tutorials from the University of Life. Quickly extracting lessons learned, course correcting and moving on with increased determination to succeed.

They practice compassion, both on themselves and on those around them, as they recognise what they are trying to do is inherently challenging and fraught with risk. Knowing this they govern the speed of change to encourage their followers to get right to the edge of their comfort zone, and then provide support and encouragement as they step together into the dis-comfort zone that a change challenge creates. They know that outside the comfort zone is where the magic happens.

The Hero’s Journey

Finally, the most common characteristic they all share, is that they know they are engaging in an age old storyline, the Hero’s Journey. They are attracted to the change cause as they see it as an adventure.

They know they will have challenges and difficulties to overcome. They expect to be helped by as yet unseen agencies and forces that will lead them to their ultimate destination. It is the thrill of the adventure that drives them, as they know when they return, which we all do, with new understandings, new powers they become fulfilled in themselves.

Their new found wisdom and maturity from the adventure enables their leadership to move up a notch and creates the ability to bring meaning into the lives of others.

Who us up for the challenge, are you? In his latest book ‘Leadership as Meaning-Making’ my good friend and colleague John Varney explores this topic in much more detail. If you want to dig deeper then I highly recommend you get a copy.