10 Traits of Leaders Who Successfully Drive Change

September 15, 2015

Leaders may or may not have a title, but what they always have are relationships where people are motivated to follow them in the direction they are heading. Leaders also have another thing in common; they are constantly taking action to improve the condition of their team or organization. Improvement signifies that something is changing.


When we talk about improvements and change in our Surviving and Thriving in Change training sessions, there is always one negative person who is quick to point out, “Not every change is a good change.” We are the first to agree with this comment. We have a history of changes that not only failed to improve the condition of something, but actually made things worse. When these types of comments are shared, we recommend leaders respond in two ways:



  • First, agree. Not all change is good change.
  • Second, let team members know that not one improvement will ever occur without a change.

Here are 10 tips that we can learn from leaders who effectively lead change:


Genuinely care about your team: If you genuinely care about your team members and the organization, you want everyone on your team to be highly successful. But it is very difficult to be successful and stay successful without changing. Both competitors and customers are continuously raising the bar. If employees and your team are not willing to rapidly change, you will become obsolete. Great leaders recognize that maintaining the status quo is not an option for the team.


Create a positive vision for the implementation of the change: If the leader cannot visualize a positive vision for the implementation of the change, then the leader’s direct reports certainly won’t see the change as positive. And, if the leader is not confident in their ability to turn the vision into a reality, the level of resistance from stakeholders rises dramatically. Great leaders see the change as an opportunity for improvement, and confidently believe they can turn their positive vision of the change into a reality.


They role modeled the change: Employees believe what they see in the halls more than what they hear or read posted on the walls. Strong leaders lead by example, and become the change they are asking of their employees.


Honor the past, then build a bridge to the future: When new managers come into an organization, some have a need to tell everyone how good the organization they came from really was and how their mission in life is to fix all the wrongs of the new organization. When it comes to leading innovation and change, this strategy has a high chance of backfiring. When managers put down their new team, team members ask themselves two questions: “If your old company was so good, why did you leave?” And, “If it was so great, why don’t you go back?” When team members have their past trashed by a new manager, they dig in their heels to protect the past. They tend to think thoughts like, “I was here before you, and I’ll be here after you leave.” Instead, honor their past and let a discussion about what a new vision with even better results could look like.


Set goals that are focused on continuous improvement: Create an environment where everyone is focused on “good, better, best…never let it rest, till the good is better and the better is best.” Yes, sales revenue, profits, quality, efficiencies, staffing ratios, staff education and innovation need to improve each month. This often leads to some people saying, “It doesn’t matter what we do, you’re never happy.” But, great leaders are happy every day. They are grateful for what is accomplished every day. But, great leaders are great leaders because they continuously improve the condition of their team and organization.


Promise problems: Most leaders want to tell people that the change is going to make everything better. A much better strategy is to tell your direct reports that with the implementation of this change, there will be a ton of problems… but what excites you is knowing that if any team can figure out the problems and solve them… this team can.


Involve your direct reports in developing a plan: People don’t dislike change as much as they dislike being changed. Take the time to involve the people who will be responsible for implementing the change…even your most difficult or challenging employees.


Over-communicate: When it comes to big change, employees love telling their leaders that because of the change… we’re too busy to meet. It is a trick. In times of change more communication, not less, will help guide the successful implementation of the change.


Focus on results: When it comes to significant change, leaders can get sidetracked and focus on how team members feel. The challenge is that most people are not excited when they are being asked to make significant changes in how they do work or the amount of work they are asked to do. To focus on morale here is a mistake. Instead, focus on the results you are trying to achieve by implementing the change. When people achieve positive results and the team is aligning to a world that is about to become, morale will take care of itself.


Change what you reward: Great leaders know all too well; you get what you reward. If your goal is to improve processes and efficiencies in your organization, then reward the people who accomplish the goal well. We recently worked with an organization who implemented new software that made the organization much more efficient internally. Some departments refused to utilize the new software. Other departments did implement the software, and became much more efficient. The problem was, however, that rewards were equally distributed among all departments, whether they utilized the software and increased efficiencies or not.


Change is hard for employees and leaders alike. But, great leaders stay focused on their positive vision for the team and organization, and take the challenge in stride. When you are capable of successfully and efficiently implementing change, you prove your worth as a leader and earn a reputation as a leader your organization can depend on for many years to come.

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