Being a change agent is not as much of an option as an imperative in our day and age.
“We live and work in an era of constant, relentless, and wide-ranging change,” says J. Byrne Murphy, chairman and founder of DigiPlex Data Centers and author of “LE DEAL: How A Young American, In Business, In Love, And In Over His Head, Kick-Started A Multibillion Dollar Industry In Europe.”
“Left unattended, without tuning, re-tuning and reinvigorating, organizations eventually veer off course and become disrupted by more innovative competitors. In the dynamism of today’s interconnected world, accepting the status quo often leads to lethargy and corporate laziness.”
Change agents are those who fuel innovation and disrupt the status quo, but you don’t even need to be a leader to become one. However, you do need to care, which is quite easy to do once you realize that embracing change not only affects your own career positively but also helps create opportunities for others.
“One does not have to hold a leadership position to be a change agent. Foremost, one has to care. Then devise the desired outcome, build a coalition, and act. But once someone has successfully prompted the change, often that person has become a leader,” says Murphy.
So how do you lead change and get others to actually follow suit, regardless of your official job title? It’s about stepping into your own vision and courage, building credibility and earning trust and respect.
Be sincere and build trust
“Sincerity in human relations leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to trust,” says Murphy. If you’re wondering what that has to do with leading change, it’s all about getting buy-in and rallying resources in an intentional way.
You can’t create change in an organization on your own. Companies are made up of people, and people need to believe in the change you’re envisioning to get on board. That’s why it’s entirely possible for someone to be in a leadership role without actually having earned the trust of their team — and fall short of being a change agent. You can hold the title but without the relationships, it’ll be harder to move the needle.
However, the good news is that once you do have that solid foundation with your teammates and can get them excited about creating transformation, you can have more impact than a larger team with more resources but weaker rapport.
“A small team in which each teammate trusts all fellow teammates can bring about much more change — substantial change, and in less time — than a larger team whose culture is based on seniority or fear or which relies on vague communication.”
Build (and keep) credibility
So you’ve probably gathered that trust and credibility go hand in hand. But what does building credibility look like in practice? Think about it in two ways: task-level and team-level.
From a task perspective, Murphy recommends offering data-backed, relevant suggestions for improving things like workflow, product or customer relations:
“Offer your analysis and evidence, side by side with your suggestions, on why this is a good idea or why this whole team shall benefit from this idea. If your manager likes your suggestion, you will likely become integral to implementing it – i.e. becoming the agent of change.”
From a team perspective, you can build credibility through your attitude.
“Whether your suggestion is accepted or rejected, remain both humble and upbeat,” says Murphy.
“No one likes to work with a teammate who gloats (if your suggestion is accepted) or a poor sport (if it is not). In the end, maintaining effective working relations and building strong bonds is much more important than having any one or two suggestions accepted.”
And once you’ve earned the credibility needed to lead change, it’s equally important to maintain it, he says. “Losing credibility with the team can close nearly all doors to leadership.”
“Once you’ve lost credibility, especially if you’re the current leader, it takes much more effort to crawl back to the starting position. Effecting positive change requires making progress, moving forward, having others believe in you enough to buy into your vision for why change is needed.”
Losing credibility will not only hurt you, but also stall the change process. “Buying in to making that change usually involves more commitment and takes more work than avoiding change. Losing credibility during the process pretty much ensures positive change screeches to a halt.”
Cultivate your mindset
If you want to be a powerful change agent, you’ll need a powerful mindset to rely on when the going gets tough — and you’ll want to project that mindset outwards through your communication.
“With the right mindset, one can more easily shake off any setback. It is key to do so, clearly and publicly, in order to regroup and charge again. That instills confidence in yourself, and therefore in your teammates,” says Murphy.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Leading change can be bumpy and unpredictable — and also uncomfortable, as you’ll be getting out of your comfort zone. Remember that having a strong why is key when it comes to moving forward and encouraging others to stick with it.
“What, ultimately, is the most important objective you’re shooting to accomplish? Tune out all the noise in your way. Many obstacles may seem to be a big deal in the heat of the moment, but if those obstacles aren’t critical success factors for the bigger picture, let them go. Keep your eyes on the prize,” says Murphy.