The 7 attributes of great Change Leaders

by Jun 21, 2019

  • Change leaders who are aspirational are in short supply
  • Executives are looking to fill gaps in their leadership capability
  • Be prepared to let the executive team share the aspirational attributes of change leadership


I’ve been thinking a lot about “What does it take to be a great change leader?” and I’m thrilled to see that more and more executives are actively asking this question and looking at how to develop themselves.

Often, when we think of the qualities of an ideal change leader, we think of terms such as bravery, courage, vulnerability, integrity, authenticity, insightful, transparency, connector, and gratitude.

While it is possible to find people in change leadership roles who possess all of these attributes, I think it’s more useful to think about them as part of the composition of a leadership team. So, I’m flagging the importance and value of an executive team that share these attributes, rather than placing all hope in finding, or being,  “the one”.

It’s worth noting this list of leadership attributes deviates from the ones we commonly recruit for or promote, such as business acumen, operational, or strategic expertise. They’re not commonly taught in MBA courses.

1. Be brave, every day.
When courage becomes Business as Usual, you find that you manage your energy better and people feel safer around you. Big brave actions are nerve-wracking for all involved.

Being brave on an everyday basis means having conversations that are uncomfortable, being decisive knowing there will be people you respect made unhappy.  But, small actions performed consistently set a new cultural standard for change.

2. Be thoughtful and considered.
In a world that is swiftly becoming dominated by big data, there is a false sense of security in how machine learning and artificial intelligence can make our lives easier. The leader of change needs to use the data for insights while being thoughtful about the application. Ethical challenges abound, particularly when invoking  “just because the data says you could, you should”.

The ability to be thoughtful and considerate of your customers, your peers, your employees, and your stakeholders will be a much-lauded capability in organisations of the future.

3. Be transparent, it builds trust.
Great change leaders know that transparency and openness is the key to resolving tension and conflict born about by change and transformation.

When customers, peers, employees, and stakeholders sense something is being spun, obscured, deflected, or covered up, they disengage or become very active in finding out the Truth. That activity gets in the way of achieving the organisation’s purpose.

4. Be vulnerable where appropriate.
Similar to courage in the need for a “Business as Usual” approach to vulnerability, the benefits of permitting your organisation to recognise personal and professional vulnerabilities on a regular basis are considerable. Your people will relate to you, and want to follow you. Too often we think that vulnerability is something we bring out of the closet when things are really bad – it’s a last order action. But to do it more regularly is to open up to opportunities of innovation, creativity, and growth.

The caveat is “where” appropriate – a regular display of vulnerability without boundaries is foolhardy. As the change guru, Daryl Conner, says:  “Go further than you would, no further than you should.”

Little shifts to being more vulnerable, regularly, reduces your stress and builds your personal resilience.

5. Be grateful, you have privilege.
If you get to be the leader of change, you must be grateful. It’s an accountability that comes with great responsibility, privilege, and power. People work their whole careers to be in your position.  If gratitude is not your default, step out of the way.

Show gratitude. It is incredibly powerful for the people who work with you.

6. Be a connector – genuinely interested in the people around.
Great change leaders know that they do not have all of the answers and are happy to connect people to causes, other teams, and expertise.

To be able to be the connector you need to be genuinely interested in the people who surround you.

7. Be true – authenticity and integrity will stand you well.
The ability to be true is something we often take for granted. It can be a lot easier to not be true. Authenticity is the flipside of integrity, and it takes courage and vulnerability. When you lead change, you will be faced with failures and challenges.

If you have faced into these challenges with authenticity and integrity, you will emerge with reputation intact.

Over to you – what of these resonates the most, or what do you think is missing? Leave your thoughts or the name of someone who you think displays these attributes.

And, of course, if you are a leader looking to build your change leadership capability and want to have a chat about coaching, let me know. Happy to help.


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