Over the last ten years, I’ve worked with a lot of change agents with varying types of authority, expertise, roles, and projects. And even though every situation is different, those who are most effective at getting things done tend to exhibit common traits. When coaching individual change agents, I find we work on building these seven factors to boost their influence.
Embarking on change means choosing uncertainty and discomfort. As a change agent, you’re also creating those conditions for others, which might not be popular. It takes courage to break out of the norm and to speak out to people who may not want to hear the truth, especially when they have more authority than you.
Change agents must be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes to understand their experience. You must predict how people will feel about change even if you don’t feel that way. Empathy stops you from judging people for resisting change, so you can recognize that their response to change is normal and valid.
Your role as a change agent is to create the conditions for change to happen, but each individual must navigate change at their own pace. Sometimes, you’ve done all you can do, and you just need to wait for people to catch up.
When you encounter resistance and setbacks, it’s easy to use it as an excuse to give up. Effective change agents don’t take resistance personally. Instead, they bounce back and don’t quit when they hear “no.” Resilience enables the persistence required to drive change.
As part of an organization, it’s easy to default to your usual patterns of behavior. But to influence change, you must deliberately choose the words and actions that break the patterns so change can happen. Being deliberate starts with self-awareness.
Being a change agent takes keen powers of observation. You notice how people respond to change and to each other. You watch for the ways the status quo is subtly reinforced, and how the desired ways of working are inadvertently discouraged. Follow observation with curiosity to find out what’s really happening.
Changing organizations is never predictable. As you involve people in the design and implementation, they’ll come up with new ideas and approaches that are different from your own. You’ll encounter unforeseen obstacles. You must listen, learn, and adapt while still ensuring the organization is moving in the right direction.
Of course, no one can embody all these traits all the time. We just don’t have that much energy! We get frustrated, make assumptions, take things personally, grow impatient, get distracted, and bend to pressure to get things done. It’s ok. When that happens, take a step back and evaluate whether practicing one of these traits will help move things forward.
What traits would you add to the list? Please share in the comments.