Change agents are leaders

Yesterday I talked about how leaders are not change agents, pointing out a difference in roles between individuals who have authority within a change initiative, and those who don’t.

While people who are in leadership positions are not the same as the people who are change agents, change agents themselves must demonstrate leadership qualities to be effective.  In that sense, change agents are leaders.

Because trust is essential for change agents, the same standards of integrity and credibility apply.

To gain buy-in, change agents consistently communicate the vision and purpose of the initiative.

Change agents frequently gain their own tribe of followers who also believe in the vision and want to be involved.

Savvy change agents may even be leading the leaders!

The tagline for Enclaria is “Equipping individuals to lead organizational change.”  I frequently add “from the middle” in conversations, because my focus is building up the capability of change agents to influence their organizations.  To that end, I believe it is important to distinguish between the leadership position in a change initiative, and the leadership characteristics that change agents must have to increase their power and influence.

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  1. says


    I agree with your assessment that effective change agents are leaders. I am less certain about your assertion that leaders are not change agents. Here’s what I’m thinking: Effective leaders must always be moving the organization forward which is often not possible without initiating change; and leaders are not always in a position of authority on the formal organization chart.

    In the case of “everyday leadership,” the leader must have the trust of the people s/he leads. The only way I know to develop trust in another human being is to authentically have their best interest at heart. In the case of a large “change initiative,” there may be, as you point out, a special person selected to lead that initiative. That person may well be someone who is being considered for a new position in the leadership ranks and who can be spared from her/his normal duties in the organization. The fact that such a position is created for the project implies to me that the leaders in the formal organization “get it.” And they must be behind the change initiative or it will fail. So in their own way, even though the delegated, the formal leaders are also agents of change – by dictating that it be done.

    Regardless, the change agent will also have to be able to build trust quickly in order to complete the initiative. So in the end, the key attribute of the leader and the change agent is building trust – and so I look for being able to initiate and execute on effective change initiatives as a critical characteristic of a leader.

    Here’s where I think we both have common ground on this. Often, if the change initiative is big enough and disruptive enough, the person heading up the change project will have to dictate that unpopular changes will be made – after hearing all concerns of course. So it is not unusual to have to “hide” or even leave the organization for a while after completing a particularly difficult initiative. Another reason we often use consultants to manage/lead big initiatives. They take the arrows and we can “blame it all on them!”

    Dave Kinnear
    Executive Leader Coach

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