I have always been fascinated to see the correlation between the speed of change and the individual who is leading the charge. The startups and businesses that have someone or a group of people helping to push the boundaries of what can be done move a lot quicker with a larger amount of “buy-in” through the process.
In “The tipping point”, Gladwell talks about the “Law of the Few” (connectors, mavens, salesmen), I do not believe change is solely dependent upon skills, as I have noticed that the individuals that are really successful in helping to be a catalyst for change embody some similar characteristics. Below is a list of what I have seen consistently.
1. A Clear Vision
A “change agent” does not have to be the person in authority, but they do however have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that clearly with others. It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.
2. Patient yet persistent
Change does not happen overnight. To have sustainable change, it is something that people will have to embrace and see importance. Most people need to experience something before they really understand, and that is especially true in startups. Further, many can get frustrated that change does not happen fast enough and they tend to push people further away from the vision, then closer. The persistence comes in that you will take opportunities to help people get a step closer often when they are ready, not just giving up on them after the first try. Startup leaders have to move people from their point ‘A’ to their point ‘B’, not have everyone move at the same pace. Every step forward is a step closer to a goal; change agents just help to make sure that people are moving ahead.
3. Asks tough questions
It would be easy for someone to come in and tell you how things should be, but again that is someone else’s solution. When that solution is someone else’s, there is no accountability to see it through. It is when people feel an emotional connection to something is when they will truly move ahead. Asking questions and helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experience is when you will see people have ownership in what they are doing. Keep asking questions to help people think, don’t diminish that by telling them what to do.
4. Knowledgeable and leads by example
Leaders have character and credibility: If you want to create change, you have to not only be able to articulate what that looks like, but show it to others.
5. Strong relationships built on trust
All of the above, means nothing if you do not have solid relationships with the people in your organization. This starts by building a very strong and diverse team. People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change. Change agents are extremely approachable and reliable. No-one should never be afraid to approach that individual based on their “authority” and usually they will go out of their way to connect with them.
That doesn’t mean that they aren’t willing to have tough conversations though; that also builds trust. Trust is also built when you know someone will deal with things and not be afraid to do what is right, even if it is uncomfortable. Sometimes trust is built when you choose to do what is right for the organization, as long as it is always done in a respectful way.
In conclusion, there is no correlation between a change agent and a charismatic leader. Often, charismatic leaders lack many of the qualities describe here and although they can seemingly lead change, it is not sustainable and does not permeate throughout the organization; it becomes too dependent upon one person. As an example, Steve Jobs was a charismatic leader, Tim Cook is a true change agent. And the combination was explosive. Something to think about.
Phil Mora is based in Silicon Valley and AVP Product at SikkaSoft, a health SaaS startup. I specialize in product magic, digital marketing, business development and entrepreneurship. A creative problem solver with a talent for strategic thinking and communication, I combine lessons learned from more than 15 years as a high-tech industry executive with my roots as a software technologist, product developer and digital marketeer. When I am not working on mobile health, I am obsessed with with sports, fitness, wellness, nutrition and anything holistic: you’ll find me at the gym or outdoors training hard. I look forward to connecting with you!
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> I am the Head of Product at Sikka Software.