Change leaders are a unique breed. To an extent they are born, not made. But, there are certain skills necessary to be successful as a change leader that can be developed. Do you possess these skills? There are different levels of change leader skill and we can develop our strength in each skill as we develop as a change leader.
Change leadership is the ability to energize groups who will be implementing change projects that they may or may not buy into. It’s important for change leaders to understand the need for change and demonstrate a high tolerance for ambiguity and a positive attitude. Change leadership also means defining areas for change; managing change initiatives smoothly by anticipating, preparing and responding effectively to roadblocks; creating an open, receptive work environment; and involving people at all levels in the change initiative. At higher levels managing complex change involves understanding cultural dynamics in play and developing practical strategies to achieve the best advantage for the organization, as well as those working on the change team.
Let’s look at the levels of change leadership competency on a behavioral scale starting with the most basic level of skill and moving to the most complex level. You’ll find it interesting to see where you fit in.
Level I – Accepts Need for Change
At this level the change leader can publicly describe a change and persuasively defend the need for the change within the organization. The individual is able to tolerate ambiguity and create an open and receptive environment.
Level I change leaders can be successful working on small change initiatives when given clear direction and access to more experienced change leaders for advice and confirmation.
Level II – Defines/Initiates Change
This change leader can define a specific area where change is needed and can identify the leverage points for change in processes and work habits.
Level II change leaders can identify the need for and initiate change at the local level.
Level III – Manages Change
This change leader is able to define an explicit vision for change based on broad organizational visions. They will make the effort to deliver the message or refine a vision for change to everyone affected. This change leader is able to redirect individual or team approaches in the face of new opportunities and involve people in the change. At this level the change leader ensures the success of change through implementation of a communication strategy, the refinement of work and organizational design models, and the facilitation of staff development.
Level III change leaders are able to translate the vision of the organization into the context of a specific change initiative and bring this message to the entire organization.
Level IV – Manages Complex Change
This change leader understands the cultural dynamics of the current state of an organization, including the hidden assumptions and the differences between the stated values and the values in practice. At this level the change leader is able to create a strategic practical course, balancing the current reality with the need for rapid adoption of the desired future reality.
Level IV change leaders are able to generate change in a productive vs. destructive way.
Level V – Champions Change
At this most strategic level, the change leader publicly challenges the status quo by comparing it to an ideal or a vision of change. This may cause a sense of crisis or imbalance. They support dramatic actions to implement the change effort. This change leader is responsive to and responsible for planning evolution, causing change, and transforming the organization.
Level V change leaders are asked to revolutionize organizations.
Most organizations don’t have the in-house ability to provide all of the educational tools necessary to develop a change leader. Over 68% of the respondents to an online poll conducted by Transition Management Advisors seek their change leadership education externally.
The change leader skill sets – planning, project time management, coalition building, decision making, active listening, meeting management, and communications – come into play at all levels of change leadership. You can increase your competency in these skill sets. You may have to work harder to access the learning tools, but if you continue to develop these skill sets you will be able to move up the spectrum of change leadership to become a unique Level V change leader.