Change. It’s a word everyone seems to be using these days. And it seems to have different connotations for different people. Regardless of what it means to you, change is inevitable. And, contrary to what many believe, people actually like change. People resist change when they fear it, and they fear it when they are not inspired by those that design and lead the change effort: the Change Leaders.

Change Leaders are not always members of the identified leadership team, and they do not simply implement change. They are the visionaries in every organization that see the need for change before it is forced upon the group. These leaders are out in front of the others they work with and for. They look for opportunities to change and improve in every situation and, once an opportunity is found, work tirelessly to ensure that the appropriate change is undertaken successfully. They do it because they can see the benefits of change, not because someone told them about it. Given that Change Leaders are so far ahead of the curve, they face additional resistance since not as many people will see the identified need for change or share in their vision. And when they do, they need to know how to handle that resistance and overcome the obstacles it presents.

People more often comply with change in response to a shift in their feelings than a shift in what they think. The key to this bringing about this shift in behavior is to influence the way people see and feel, not just their analysis and thinking. So, if a Change Leader wants to change others’ behaviors, the leader must not simply give others facts to analyze and influence their thoughts; the Change Leader must help others to see the new vision in a manner which positively influences their feelings. Lasting change, then, happens as a result of the ability of those leading the change efforts to generate emotionally charged ideas that change behavior and reinforce the new behaviors.

These leaders know that their vision is not something that will be immediately apparent to others around them. They know that, as a result, they must overcome the fear of the unknown before they will achieve buy-in even among those they target for the guiding team. While all people involved with change understand the importance of communication, Change Leaders know that they must communicate their vision in clear and compelling fashion or they will not be able to generate the support and enthusiasm necessary to undertake major change. But how do they help people to see and feel their vision, in addition to understanding it intellectually?

To do this, they use methods that will help others to envision the solutions, reduce negative emotions that get in the way of change (anger, cynicism, complacency or fear), and simultaneously increase the emotions that will help move the initiative forward successfully; feelings such as urgency, optimism, and belief. Change Leaders, then, need to create real-world scenarios that resonate with those affected by the change in a way that helps each person see the benefits of the change at an intellectual and visceral level. This is a crucial step in moving people to change. People who are emotionally moved will participate in the change more readily and openly, and they will commit to its success.

Change Leaders can inspire their colleagues to embrace the change by:

      • Clearly communicating the vision and establish goals (including stretch goals) that give the team direction,
      • Encouraging challenges to assumptions and the status quo,
      • Establishing a system of feedback for the change that is free from bureaucracy, and
      • Implementing an atmosphere of “safe failure” so people will not be afraid to experiment and fail.

While some of these may seem obvious, others may seem counterintuitive. In fact, some may think that they would actually derail change efforts. For example, if there is already a vision and direction for the change, why would you want to allow people to challenge assumptions, or experiment and fail? After all, these actions can lead to discord and defeat. However, to a Change Leader, these actions are welcomed, not feared.

Clearly communicating your vision enables others to invest in your ideas and ask questions about aspects they do not understand so they can get behind the initiative. Allowing people to challenge assumptions enables you to see more clearly if there are any flaws in the logic with which your change initiative was designed. It gives you a fresh perspective from which you can see your ideas under different circumstances. It stimulates more flexible and creative thinking, and, therefore, leads to implementation plans that are more likely to succeed or turn up fatal flaws before they become too costly. Reducing or removing the bureaucracy associated with the feedback mechanisms makes it possible for people at all levels of the organization to identify and voice concerns before, during, and even after the change is implemented, which makes issue surface more quickly and at a time that they can be more easily addressed. So, in actuality, these actions will all lead to a better process and much more fully vetted final state of the change, while simultaneously creating the emotional investments people need to see and feel the change. They are the very type of actions that make great leaders great.

Leaders know that they must focus on the success of the entire organization, not just the success of individuals. Outstanding leaders know how to develop outstanding talent, and they know that talent exists at all levels. It simply needs to be identified and cultivated. Leaders are not intimidated by ideas generated by others; they know their success is measured by the performance of the entire organization. They know that they will only shine when the organization, as a whole, experiences success. Change Leaders know that they must bring about change that enables the entire organization to succeed and move beyond its current state to the desired end state, and they know they must look and listen to those around them to envision the changes that will be most beneficial. They also know that in any successful change effort, their role is to inspire others so others will both support the change and assume responsibility for areas in which they may have better insight into the processes and procedures that will bring about the necessary change. When people are involved in the change process they invest in it, and when they invest they are less likely to resist the change.

Leaders also know that people are inspired when they are empowered and encouraged to contribute to the vision and direction of the organization, not just follow the leadership team on the journey. This type of inspiration reaches to a very deep and emotional level, since it gives every person in the organization the feeling that (s)he is an integral part of the success of the overall organization. It allows them to take responsibility and embody the changes without holding ownership share. Change Leaders use this tactic to generate the emotional connections that will drive the new behaviors and lead the organization to overall success.

Once the emotional underpinnings of success are generated, the Change Leader knows when to delegate and when to maintain control. These leaders know that ensuring enough people are involved in the activities and processes surrounding the change will lead to greater support for the change, because people cannot simultaneously hold onto two dissonant cognitions. When we encounter dissonant related thoughts, we seek to reduce the resultant discomfort by bringing the dissonant thoughts into alignment with each other, thereby restoring cognitive consonance. Change can create these dissonant cognitions, and Change Leaders know how to leverage the resulting dissonance to move people to restore consonance, which, in turn, leads to the generation of the emotionally charged ideas that are necessary to change or reinforce changed behaviors.

Are you a Change Leader? You can get ahead of the crowd and become a change leader or move yourself to the next level of leading change with the support of a knowledgeable coach. Contact us to learn more about how we can assist you through focused leadership coaching.

Author's Bio: 

Ellen Smolko is a Professional and Interpersonal Effectiveness Coach who firmly believes that people perform best when they are focused on goals which are carefully calculated to drive the success they desire. She has coached numerous leaders in accurately aligning People, Process, and Purpose to achieve optimal results. A key adviser to corporate and entrepreneurial clients, she has provided insight and guidance which has measurably improved the effectiveness and efficiency of individuals and groups alike.

Ellen brings a sincere passion for coaching and mentoring people to achieve their personal best. Her unique methodology enables her clients to gain invaluable insights that support life long improvement and leverage their inner strengths to focus on what really matters.

You can read more about Ellen's philosophy and unique methodology at