Want real change leadership? Connect to the change leader’s desire point

woman driving car

Written by Vicky Emery

July 13, 2020

Photo by Peter Fazekas from Pexels.

In the previous series, we explored just three styles of change leadership, the strengths and risks and what can help. In this blog, let’s take that one step deeper. To turbo-charge the impact your change leader can have on the outcomes, there are 2 key questions to explore:

  1. What is in it for this change leader if they can land this change – get it right this time?
  2. What will make it worth the effort of being more effective as a change leader?

Here is what I have found works without putting them on the spot and, and this is really important: while building trust.

  • FIRST: Do your homework – make sure you understand the change and why the organisation needs to land it. What is in it for us if we can get this right, this time? Why is it so important? Why now? What will this change take? Read everything, talk with people, go ‘do’ the old way. You may or may not agree with the change, but be clear on the why and impacts. This will be critical in the conversations you need to have with the change leader.
  • Summarise the change with the change leader – ‘let me run this past you to make sure I have it right so we can get on with things….’. This often helps reframe and refocus the change leader and, I have found, they are often relieved they don’t have to expose the fact that they may not be across the change as much as they would like to be! It also uncovers any misalignment in what the change leader wants and what is happening. And, if you only have a small window of time with them, at least you can be clear on where we are going.
  • Open the door – let them know what you’ve read or heard from people with whom you’ve spoken, point out some interesting/innovative/insightful elements you’ve gleaned and open the door for them to add their thoughts. Try things like:
    • What do they find interesting, challenging or exciting?
    • What are they concerned about?
    • At this point, I would also ask something like ‘is there any more background you would find helpful on this piece of work? Is there any team/area/aspect you would like me to focus on?’
    • LISTEN – even to what they are NOT saying
  • Listen for their drivers – often we want to lead the conversation and get answers. Once you have opened the door, listen. Attend. Ask questions that help explore and build shared understanding. Here are some of the things I am listening for (you may not want to ask each of these questions but, as you listen, see how you can learn more about these things:
    • What is important to them about landing this change?
    • What will it mean to them or/& their team, customers, community if we can get it this right this time?
    • Notice I am not asking about the details of the ‘how’. I am trying to understand their drivers – do they want to be first to land this change?
    • Do they want to deliver a great customer experience?
    • Is this a career-maker for them?
    • Do they want to fix something that has been an issue for a while?
    • Do they just want to get it done?
  • Connect the dots – review what you have learned. Ask yourself: what is the link between the outcomes of the change and what drives this change leader? You can tailor the way you do this with their style. You may know them and worked with them before – often I have to find this out quickly with someone with whom I don’t have an existing relationship. If we understand what drives them, we can connect how being an effective change leader is of use to them in achieving the outcomes. For example:
    • the overloaded change leader: how will being an effective change leader help them keep the project team on track?
    • the evangelical leader: what activities can they be doing that make sure they have a strong adoption across a broader group?
    • the SME change leader: how will coming out of the shed and communicating with teams help deliver a great solution? Where can they have some of the fun of getting their hands dirty and being effective as a change leader?


Taking time to learn about what is driving the change leaders puts you in the best position to work with them effectively. Listening to understand without judging their drivers and build trust is a critical skill that will serve you well as a practitioner.

How can we help?

  • Coaching – bringing in an ‘outside’ coach can help and that’s where we come in. We are ‘neutral territory’ and our focus as a coach to you is helping you achieve the outcomes you need of the change.

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