4 Traits of a Change-Ready Leader

September 28, 2023 David Witt

In today's fast-paced and ever-changing world, organizations must adapt and evolve to stay competitive and relevant. A crucial factor in this adaptability is leadership that not only embraces change but also nurtures it within their teams. In a recent Blanchard webinar, change expert Judd Hoekstra shared four specific traits that enable leaders to successfully implement a high-involvement change strategy–courage, curiosity, agility, and grit–and explained how they contribute to creating open, flexible, and adaptive organizations.

Trait One: Courage—Strength in the face of challenge and uncertainty

Courage is often associated with bravery in the face of danger, but in the context of leadership and change, it means having the strength to confront challenges and uncertainties. High-involvement change leaders are willing to move toward discomfort and vulnerability. They understand that change is often uncomfortable, but it's a necessary step toward growth.

Hoekstra shares that, “Courage is defined as having strength in the face of challenges and uncertainty. Change leaders demonstrate courage when they move toward uncomfortable feedback, are honest about what needs to change and are willing to share control of the change. It takes courage to initiate change and to allow others to have a voice in decision-making.”

One hallmark of these leaders highlighted in Blanchard’s Leading People Through Change® program is honesty and transparency. They share information and tell their truth about what is happening within the organization and what needs to change. Instead of trying to sell people on making change, they are candid about the current state of affairs, and they set the stage for a more honest and open dialogue about necessary transformations.

They recognize that involving others in the change-making process is essential. It's not about dictating change from the top down but rather creating a collaborative environment where everyone's input is valued. This approach not only enhances the quality of decisions but also fosters a sense of ownership and commitment among team members.

Trait Two: Curiosity—A strong desire to know, learn, or understand

Curiosity is the engine that drives continuous learning and improvement. High-involvement change leaders exhibit a strong desire to know, learn, and understand.

Hoekstra explains curiosity as “Having a strong desire to know, learn, or understand something. Change leaders demonstrate curiosity when they ask about people's concerns and questions, express interest in the feelings and opinions of others, and involve people in the change process. It takes curiosity to consider whether a different way of doing things might work better. Their goal is to draw from others' experiences and expertise.”

These leaders actively ask questions, seeking to uncover hidden insights. Their inquisitiveness encourages a culture of exploration and innovation within the organization.

Furthermore, their curiosity extends beyond data and processes. These leaders express genuine interest in surfacing others' experiences, opinions, feelings, concerns, and well-being. They value their team members' perspectives and actively involve them in the change process. This not only makes individuals feel heard and valued but also results in more well-rounded and effective change strategies.

Trait Three: Agility—The ability to think, understand, and move quickly

In a world where change happens rapidly, agility is a must-have leadership trait. Hoekstra defines agility as “the ability to think, understand, and move quickly.” 

“Change leaders demonstrate agility when they recognize the need to change and act quickly. They remain open-minded when things don't go as planned and anticipate and respond to the concerns of others. It takes agility to adapt and shift as needed in the face of new information.”

These leaders understand that not all changes will unfold as expected. Instead of resisting or panicking when faced with unexpected challenges, they remain open-minded, adapt and pivot, seeking new solutions and opportunities.

Anticipating and flexibly responding to others' concerns is also part of leadership agility. Effective leaders understand that change can be unsettling for some team members. They might not have all the answers, but they remain available to proactively address concerns and provide the necessary support and guidance to help individuals navigate through the transition successfully.

Trait Four: Grit—The ability to withstand discomfort and demonstrate resilience

Last but not least, grit is a fundamental trait for high-involvement change leaders. Grit represents the ability to remain resilient in the pursuit of long-term goals.

These leaders demonstrate unwavering passion for achieving long-term results. They keep their eyes on the bigger picture and are not easily deterred by short-term setbacks or challenges. Their determination inspires others to persevere in the face of discomfort and adversity.

As Hoekstra explains, “Leaders demonstrate grit when they exhibit passion for achieving long-term results and persevere in the face of challenges. They demonstrate resolve in seeing things through. It takes grit to tenaciously stay the course in the face of setbacks.”

Leaders with grit don't abandon ship when the going gets tough. Instead, they rally their teams and remain committed to the change initiatives until they are successfully implemented.

Be a Change-Ready Leader

High-involvement change leaders who possess courage, curiosity, agility, and grit play a pivotal role in creating open, flexible, and adaptive organizations. These traits not only empower leaders to embrace change but also enable them to nurture these qualities in their teams. In a world where change is the only constant, these leadership traits are the cornerstone of success.

You can learn more about the traits and strategies Hoekstra covered in his webinar, Becoming an Agile, Change-Ready Leader, here.   You can also download a free white paper, Leading Successful Change Initiatives, from the Blanchard website.

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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