Seven Traits That Make A Manager Stand Out As A Change Leader

traits of a change leader

In a world that is constantly changing, businesses need to continually adapt and change to keep pace.

The corporate world is littered with examples of once-great companies that became complacent, lost focus, and ultimately failed (think Kodak, One.Tel, Kmart, and the entire British car manufacturing and shipbuilding industries in the 1970s).

Effective change leadership is (probably) the deciding factor between success and failure: it’s why the most successful people are those that continue to develop professionally throughout their career, adding new skills and capabilities to ensure they remain competitive in the jobs market.

Continual change is not a natural state, though. People prefer the status quo: it provides a basis for reference and a ‘comfort zone’ in which to operate. Continual change as a concept, however, can and should provide its own basis of success. It is the job of change leaders to instill a philosophy of continual change within an organization. But what makes good change leaders?

Having studied some of the best in the world ­– people like Lou Gerstner, Jack Welch, Denise Morrison, and Ian McLeod among them – there are seven distinct personality traits that have made them great change leaders. If you want to identify the change leaders within your organization, finding those managers that exhibit these characteristics will provide a springboard to continuous change and long-term success.

1. Change leaders are emotionally stable

Nerves and anxiousness restrict the ability to deal with existing circumstances and take advantage of future opportunities. Anxiety usually results in either a defensive, withdrawn approach, or a no-holds-barred attack reaction: flight or fight. Both are destructive in the continual change context, preventing effective change and damaging people nearby. The best change leaders work on an even emotional pain, receptive to opportunity and able to react constructively.

2. Change leaders are people of action

Change does not happen without action. Change leaders have energy, enthusiasm, and foresight. They are able to see the vision of the future and feel the rewards of progress.

3. Change leaders are confident

Continuous change does not happen without confidence in actions. Change, by its very nature, is risky: it involves walking into the unknown and coping with any number of as yet undiscovered issues and problems. Success cannot be achieved without a belief that it will be achieved. This positivity rubs off on a change leader’s people: confidence breeds confidence.

4. Change leaders are open to ideas

A closed mind produces closed responses. A manager who is open to possibilities, willing to explore how something may work or work better, is one who is open to the possibility of change and not locked into a routine. You’ll find the best change leaders are those willing to explore different perspectives and ideas, and creative in thought processes.

5. Change leaders are not risk-averse

Change leaders are willing to accept and take risks, but not without it being measured. They accept the risk of uncertainty but will plan to mitigate risks as far as possible. They will measure success against risk when deciding to take action. They also understand that the greatest risk may be to do nothing.

6. Change leaders are able to prioritize

Change leaders will assess and prioritize issues and opportunities. They’ll prioritize labor and needs, as well as time and resource. They spot the opportunity, take the risk to profit from that opportunity, and mitigate risk partly by prioritizing within the scope of the identified opportunity.

7. Change leaders are visionaries

Vision encompasses every one of the six traits above. Some might argue that as such it is not a trait in itself. I disagree: vision to see the opportunity of a situation and of people is a way of thinking, and as such, I include as a personality trait.

Pack your organization with great change leaders

Benefitting from continual change requires an organization to ‘give itself’ to its change leaders. These leaders will promote change from within, enthusing your people to see opportunity and grasp it with both hands. They will make sure your organization moves forward and doesn’t stop moving forward not only by envisioning the future themselves but also by creating visionaries within their teams.

Here are five things you can do to ensure your organization is one of continual change and not at a complacent standstill:

  • Hire people who exhibit emotional stability and remain calm under pressure.
  • Hire energetic people, who are enthusiastic about the future opportunity.
  • Hire people who will take risks, but will accept the responsibility of measuring those risks first.
  • Hire people who have a diverse range of skills and interests.
  • Provide an environment where creative thinking is encouraged and applauded. Encourage the sharing of experiences, successes, and failures. Make work a learning experience as well as a ‘doing’ experience.

Continual change is a state begun by change leaders and empowered by corporate culture.

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