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What It Takes To Be Captain Of The Change Journey


The following is a guest piece from Dr. Karin Stumpf.

Implementing change is a vital requirement of modern business life. In my work as a change professional I have identified three leadership attributes (also described in more details in my book “Leading Business Change”) that are key to successful change:

  • Being active in shaping the organization transformation
  • Role modeling the required behavioral adjustments and
  • Motivating the people involved and impacted

1. Shaping the Organization Transformation
Being a shaper means being clear on the way forward, being able to explain to others how they will transition from one situation to another. As the change leader, you are ultimately responsible for the delivery of the expected results and you need to take ownership, as well as making (some tough) decisions whenever required.

It is fine to have an open mind to different opinions to get the ultimate solution, but at some point you have to act at the risk of being wrong. I have seen too many managers fear mistakes. They want to spend so much time trying to make sure they “get it right the first time” that their inaction leads to the entire project’s immobilization. In business as in life, you cannot move forward by standing still.

That necessarily entails being able to take a risk, and understand ahead of time how your decisions will affect the rest of the organization. By definition, your initiative will force the company to change, which for a certain time will lead to instability.

When you start encountering adversity and issues, your journey will feel like it takes two steps forward and one step back, but you cannot allow setbacks to demoralize you. You have to instill confidence in times of uncertainty by continuously giving individuals clear direction and vision.

2. Role Modeling the Required Behaviors
Changing organizational processes and structures really comes down to changing individuals’ behavior. As such, it is critical that you model the behavior you expect to see from affected people. If you “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk,” then you can expect your employees to do the same.

While they may pay lip service to the new expectations, like you, they will continue to do things the way they want to.

Being a role model is primarily about being genuine in your approach. That is, your people need to trust you. What kind of role model would you be if you were a captain in the army? Would you be one of those leaders who sent soldiers in, saying, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe!” Or would you be the one leading the charge?

The same is true for change. You have to be the first one to embrace it. If your company decides to abolish single offices, you have to be one of the first to move into the new open office floor plan—not the last.

If your boss tasks you with implementing a new collaboration tool to support global communication, you have to actively use it in your interactions with others. If you trust your own change initiative, walking the walk should come naturally.

This goes beyond just leading in the way you act. Who was it that said, “If you’re leading but no one’s following, you’re just taking a walk.” An effective role model is out in front, but behind them is a group of followers. Showing respect for others’ opinions and perspectives is the critical concept here.

If you want them to follow your leadership, first show them that you care about what they think and demonstrate that you are fully committed to the vision and its successful execution.

3. Motivating the People
As the person in charge of a strategic initiative, you presumably have some degree of explicit authority. You can order people to accomplish certain tasks and tell them to comply with certain policies. But as long as you have to force them to take action, you may have their obedience, but you will never have their buy-in.

The more effective approach to change is to motivate the people working with and for you. People find their motivation inside themselves. As a change leader, your task is to create a working environment in which they can thrive, where they find fulfillment, and where they know that they make a difference.

Inclusion and participation are one of the best tools to get your people motivated and engaged. That is not to say that rewards and recognition are not important. They are; they just should not stand alone.

Motivating other people is not about being peppy and enthusiastic. It is rather about finding the obstacles that keep individuals from providing their full support and understanding their concerns.

Much of your team would remain unmotivated when their basic concern would remain unresolved. If you demonstrated how the change would result in them having more authority or a more interesting job, you could very well have an incredibly motivated team.

You know you have become a successful change leader when the people impacted by the change can honestly say, “I understand how my job is going to change. I want to positively influence the outcome of our efforts. Moreover, my leader inspires me to deliver great work by showing me what is expected.” Shared ownership of the change is one of the keystones of successful change leadership.

Dr. Karin Stumpf consults for multinational companies implementing strategy changes, such as DaimlerChrysler, Universal Pictures, Deutsche Bank and Bombardier Transportation. She recently published her second book “Leading Business Change: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Organization” on the challenges of organizational change. To learn more about Karin’s work, visit her website at

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