5 ways to become an effective change leader

change leader handshake

You may have heard the term ‘change leader,’ but what does this leadership style really entail? To be a change leader means that as CEO, you have the ability to inspire and motivate your employees even in the face of rapid change and uncertainty — you are adaptable and can detect the tide of change and respond to that change appropriately. The reality for CEOs today is that they must be able to adapt to change — and adapt quickly, or become quickly obsolete.

So how does a chief executive stay resilient and flexible to an ever-changing competitive market, economic landscape, workplace culture and more? Begin by understanding the advantages of change leadership and start putting into practice some of the effective habits of change leaders as outlined below. Soon enough you and members of your team will become change agents — one idea at a time.


Characteristics of an effective change leader

Change is often discussed from a technical point of view — I like to talk about change and how it ties to curiosity. I feel that if you are not curious, you are not changing. A true change leader practices curiosity and is comfortable with challenging the status quo. They know that curiosity is the key to innovation and to instigate positive change, and so they nurture a culture of curiosity at their organization. They are able to combine curiosity, humility and humor to deal with change.

Change leaders are also excellent communicators. They connect with their employees and know how to effectively communicate the vision for the business and the strategy for how to get there. Typically, change leaders are superior communicators because they have high social and emotional intelligence — they are in tune with the undercurrents of how their people are feeling and doing as this affects the overall health and vitality of the organization.

>>Related Content: What is servant leadership?

How to become an effective change leader who grows people and the business

1. Be humble.

When I went suddenly blind, and my family, friends, co-workers and Board of Directors were reaching out to help, I pushed back thinking that accepting help would be a sign of weakness, a sign of my limitations. If the definition of humility is “the ability to accept help” I most certainly was not being humble. And how can you expect your team to challenge the current thinking if they don’t know that you are truly humble and that humility extends to the entire management team? Change leaders practice humility — it goes a lot further than many CEOs may think.

2. Assess, don’t judge.

When new ideas bubble up to the surface, many times we judge them based on our current beliefs, prejudices and preconceived ideas — this is looking backwards. But when you assess, you force yourself to look at the potential of something — to look forward.

Be aware that there is an inherent risk in assessing only the first layer of the onion and judge it inedible due to the skin. True change leaders assess the potential of version 2.0 and 3.0 of an idea, situation or scenario before making a conclusion about it.

3. Expect curiosity from everybody, and start by modeling it yourself.

Talk to team members, ask questions and practice deeper listening. Do this with team members, fellow Vistage members, vendors, clients, and yes, past clients. Read the Business Journals and join the association that represents your industry. Change leaders are role models for learning and professional expansion.

4. Expect initiative — or else nothing will happen.

Notice I said “expect initiative” and not “encourage initiative.” A change leader expects employees to be proactive and take initiative to help drive the business forward. I truly believe that someone who takes initiative but makes the wrong decision is a better employee than one who is unwilling to stick their neck out. So how do you encourage initiative without compromising the standards you have in place? Show the team that you encourage initiative in changing the HOW but not the WHAT we do. You can certainly set up a process to challenge WHAT we do in a more formal way.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Make yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability goes hand-in-hand with humility, and when you demonstrate these qualities, people around you will open up. Yes, be firm and have a vision, but be open to new ideas!


In conclusion, change is hard. Change is disruptive and expensive. But the bottom line is you are either the disruptor or the disrupted, and change leaders are the disruptors. True change leaders are curious, choose to assess rather than judge, and are able to pivot when they sense a changing tide. Change leaders also expect all team members to be engaged. That engagement will most likely pay off in loyalty, advancement of ideas, and a fulfilled team that embraces your change leadership.


Category: Leadership

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About the Author: André Van Hall

André van Hall is a Vistage speaker and as the “Curiosity Instigator” he challenges CEOs to be curious, inquisitive, seek new answers, and be open to change. He believes that curiosity leads to breakthr

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