What makes a good change leader? In this step-by-step guide, we’ll explain how to become one, what skills you should have, and what you need to succeed.
Regardless of your current job position – executive, manager, or otherwise – you are probably:
- Good with people
- Driven to succeed
Also, you probably want to help your organization succeed.
When looking for jobs or researching career prospects, you may notice more jobs for “change managers” than for “change leaders.”
What’s the difference?
Change Leader vs. Change Manager
Technically, a change manager manages change.
They supervise, operate, and organize the change.
A change leader, however, is responsible for the vision behind a change.
They embody the change, push it forward, and strategize.
Though each change professional may define the two roles a bit differently, these are the core differences.
As mentioned, there may not be many job positions titled, “change leader.” And those that are may describe change management roles.
A change leader can be anyone with a suitable level of responsibility within an organization.
However, becoming successful at this role has a few requirements.
Let’s look at what you’ll need to succeed.
Essential Characteristics of a Change Leader
First and foremost, a change leader needs to have a few core leadership traits.
Personality characteristics can be cultivated – but they are not as easy to learn as a new software tool.
If you don’t have at least a germ of these skills, leadership may not be the right role for you.
Perseverance and resilience are essential traits.
After all, there will be setbacks, obstacles, and resistance.
Overcoming these obstacles is no easy task, and can require unflagging effort.
The vision for change is the change leader’s key ingredient.
This vision is the goal for organizational change.
It’s what everyone else will follow – and it’s this vision that change managers will help you achieve.
An unmotivated leader isn’t really a leader.
Unless you actually, truly want to achieve your vision, you cannot call yourself motivated.
This motivation is critical, because you have to transfer that motivation to others.
As with change managers, change leaders need people skills.
A high emotional quotient gives leaders the empathy they need.
With it, people will follow that leadership.
Without it, people will feel disconnected from the leader, and results will suffer.
Communication skills and soft skills are essential for leaders.
A leader must be able to communicate in order to:
- Collaborate effectively
- Motivate followers
- Tell his or her vision to others
Communication is one of the key skills for all change professionals – leaders and managers alike.
Innovative thinking is another must-have.
After all, innovation drives many companies to succeed.
If change leaders cannot innovate, they will not be able to create the right changes.
Those who can think creatively – and strategically – will help their organizations adapt and compete in the marketplace.
Skills and Abilities to Develop for Leadership Roles
The second step for becoming a change leader is developing the right skills and abilities.
Unlike personal characteristics, these are more easily acquired.
With the right courses and training, they can be learned.
Strategic Thinking and Analyzing Problems
Many changes begin with growth opportunities, problems, or threats.
Regardless of the reason for the change, every change comes with a host of problems, including:
- Resource constraints
- Employee resistance
- Timelines and scheduling
- Service disruption
Each change program and each business is unique, so each set of problems will be unique.
The change leader should be able to analyze these problems. Then, together with the change management team, they can develop solutions.
Modeling change requires change management expertise.
This is especially true in cases where the change leader and the change manager are the same person. Or when they work very closely together.
To understand change models, study:
- Classics, such as Lewin and Kotter
- Current popular change frameworks, such as ADKAR and ITIL
- Modern business thinking that can help effect change, such as lean thinking and agile
The more versed a change leader is with change management literature, theory, and practice, the better.
Defining a Vision
Having a change vision is not the same as articulating that vision.
In change management, visions are often articulated through stories.
In part, the ability to define and articulate a vision relies on communication skills.
It can also be acquired through learning:
- Public speaking
- Public presentations
- Sales and marketing
These skills can help a leader turn their vision into something understandable, graspable, and actionable.
Strategic thinking and analysis are important – but not enough on their own.
Leaders are leaders because they can follow through.
The action-oriented leader makes things happen.
This can mean:
- Hiring, firing, and re-positioning key players
- Motivating employees often
- Monitoring progress – and “nudging” when there isn’t enough
To execute successfully, leaders must stay focused on results and the grand strategy.
This perspective will help them avoid small struggles and unimportant issues.
A change leader, like any other leader, must be able to garner support – not force it.
The list above is not comprehensive, by any means.
However, it does serve as a good launchpad.
From here, one can learn all the basics they need to succeed as a change leader.