I am often asked what I believe are the key traits that underpin an effective change leader. Having been involved in change in the capacities of a people leader, a leader of change and a contributor to change, I’ve come to believe that there are three key elements that underpin the success of a change leader.
Strategic and Tactical Ambidexterity. The ability to work simultaneously in a strategic and tactical capacity will bode you well in leading change, or as a leader in general. The ability to keep an eye on the true north of the project whilst managing the day to day politics and project needs is a skill that not everyone possesses. However the best leaders have this desirable ability and it’s what underpins their performance. Make time each day to reflect on the strategic elements of the project, whilst ensuring that factors like the administrative elements of the project are managed in the context of the project scope. Don’t be blind to the politics of the project, and at the same time don’t engage in games to do with the politics. In that one sentence you have a golden key to relationships success in the change project.
Don’t Be a People Pleaser. Things will go wrong. You will make mistakes. You will make people mad, and they will let you know it. This is a reality of change management and leading people through times of transition, evolution and change. If you have a drive to please others, then you have a choice. The upside of this is that if you know you have a tendency toward being a people pleaser, you are probably able to tune in to the feel of the room, and connect with how people are feeling. Leverage this strength as it is one of the best ways to ensure people feel heard and connected with throughout change. But you need to regulate this desire and not slip into being a rescuer and spreading yourself so thin when it comes to making sure everyone is ok. When we slip into rescuer mode we discount the ability of others to deal with change which is the opposite of what we need to be doing. You won’t be able to make sure everyone is ok, and in the end you will burn out. If this is you, and you are unable to keep this in check, then either get out now, or look to strengthen this aspect of yourself.
Rest and Reflect. When I look at the leaders who have inspired me, and when I look back at my own approach, I see that the ability to rest and reflect is a key attribute of a leader, especially when driving change. When leading change you need all the energy you can get, simply because you are investing a bit more energy into coordinating, directing, communicating and supporting your people. So find ways to take genuine time out reflect on the day that was, and to explore in your mind what tomorrow may be like. Take time to chill. Take your mind away from the reality of the day. We often forget that when leading people our primary tool is our brain. So give it some time out, rest it, and allow it to be at its best so that you can role model with ease and energy the new behaviours every day.
So there you have it, my key traits that underpin effective leaders of change. Of course there are many other traits as well however these are the qualities I see time and again in the more successful leaders of change.