When it comes to organizational transition, not all leaders are created equal. If you don’t have the right person with the right skill set spearheading change, your organization probably won’t transform in a meaningful way (or at all).
This can be a challenging reality as it sometimes means we need to replace existing leaders – people who are great at maintaining the status quo – with people who can create the desired change. Other times it means supplementing a current skill set by introducing an interim co-leader to support the transition.
In helping companies through digital transformation and growth for the past 20 years, I’ve observed a handful of traits in leaders who are particularly successful at navigating change.
If you’re on the cusp of transition, this is an excellent evaluation checklist to help determine if you’ve got the right person at the helm.
They see the other side of change and can anticipate roadblocks
- Great change leaders have been on the other side of change before. They know what it looks like and can help others understand their roles when they get there. They’re also excellent at anticipating potential roadblocks and, equally as necessary, the solutions for getting past them.
- Even if you have change leaders within your organization, it’s essential that someone has experience with the specific type of transition. Fahren recently worked with a client that had OCM leaders in place, but they couldn’t articulate what change looked like because they hadn’t experienced product transformation before. To solve that, we brought in an interim leader to help guide them toward a vision. Without the input of a contributor with the right experience, it’s unlikely you’ll make traction toward the change you need.
They’re emotionally tapped into team dynamics and capabilities
- Sure, leaders need to be skilled in their areas, but they also need to have emotional intelligence to understand and relate to others. A great transition leader can empathize with what teams are going through and inspire them to buy in to the vision.
- On a parallel path, they also need to be able to assess the team’s personalities, aptitudes and attitudes to discern if they have the right staff to move through change. Within this dimension comes an added layer of nuance: being able to identify change agents and early adopters within their teams. When you begin a transition, the majority of people will be hesitant or resistant to change. A good change leader knows how to pick out the early adopters who will be instrumental in getting the small wins. These wins will excite other teams and convert the skeptics to believers.
They’re natural storytellers and communicators
- It’s human nature to be resistant to change. This is why it’s so critical for leadership to be able to weave a story that gets people excited about the vision for the future. Bringing the team along for the ride is critical for generating enthusiasm and buy in. Part of the finesse is knowing that each constituent may need a curated version of the story that speaks to their needs. Leaders should be able to navigate different communication styles so they can effectively connect with everyone, from key stakeholders to employees.
They never stop learning
- A rockstar change leader is constantly adding to their skill set. They are paying attention to trends and their competitors work. But the dedication doesn’t stop there. They also connect with top leaders from other organizations to exchange expertise and bring back learnings to their own org.
Leader and organization are aligned on the scope of change
- This isn’t necessarily a leadership trait, but it is critical to transition. A leader’s ability to push change forward is only as good as the organization’s desire for change. If the leader’s ideas are bigger than the company’s desires, their hands are tied. They will probably take their skill set elsewhere. Conversely, if the organization is ready for significant change but its leader isn’t thinking big enough; You probably haven’t found the right person to transform. If this alignment is lacking, neither the leader nor the organization are going to find the desired outcome they crave.
Does your current leader check these boxes? If not, it may be time to find the right person or interim support team to incite the change your organization is after.