This May be the Only Reference You Need to Become a Successful Change Agent

And for everyone who has been a leader for more than a week, this will be a great opportunity to reflect on past mistakes and dissect them, learning where and how to pivot for maximum effectiveness in current or future projects in your organization.

Do not be disheartened by how simple this chart will appear. There is depth in the message that will take a lifetime to master. Always remember,

Life is a long lesson in humility. ~James Barrie Click To Tweet




Every Change is a Collection of Traits, Tactics, and Desires Thrown into a Pot

I often find myself looking at a change I am implementing and within minutes seeing the solution. It comes across so simple. So in reach. If I put my head down and muscle through, I know I can do it.


And then I make the Mistake Assuming my Team is Right there with me.


A bit of background on me. See if any of these traits resonate with you. I bet some will:


  • Energetic
  • Big Picture Focused
  • Driven to Achieve
  • Data Driven
  • Rational to the point of being Stand-offish


Most of these traits are very positive in an organization. You need clear thinkers. You need people who will cut through the emotions and get right to the core of a problem.


Being rational, intelligent, and calculating is great for solopreneurs. It can destroy a team Click To Tweet


When I receive the big promotion from industrial engineer, to being a manager of over forty people across three sites, I quickly learned that it didn’t matter how smart or driven you are if you can’t lead your team to the same goal.


I got burned on a project. Then on another. And another. We still achieved our goal, but I could tell I did it with poor leadership. My team felt confused, frustrated, and anxious. I didn’t understand why at the time.

After finding this graphic and reflecting on it, it makes sense. Let’s look at how the lack of any of the ingredients can lead to a failed change.

Confusion = Lack of Vision


All leaders have a vision. Successful Leaders infect their organization with it. Click To Tweet


All Leaders have a Vision. Successful Leaders know how to convey it. Click To Tweet


It was my first project as a manager. A huge success. My team got recognition from the executives. I was in the clouds. When it was all said and done, I reflected on the project with my team. And I plummeted back to earth.

“Oh, that’s what we were going for?”

“I thought the objective was xyz…”

“Is that what you meant when you said…?”


Great leadership. I was successful because I drove my team to the result I wanted. They were reduced down to workers, and I was the manager. They had no idea where we were going together, and they trusted my authority, not my vision.


Not how you want to start a relationship with your team. But the lesson was clear:

No matter how clear the vision is in your mind, Never Assume your team is on the same page


You have probably heard the axiom that the best way to learn something is to teach it. As a leader, it is time to reverse roles. As you begin to take on a new project, Follow this framework:

Share your vision with your team. As with any new project, you set the tone from day one. Be positive about the project, and explain the greater good. How does this project impact the greater organization?

Let it soak. I am a high-energy guy. When given a task, I want to tackle it like a border collie on a new chew toy. This is exactly the mentality you want in an individual contributor. Sometimes you need the opposite in a leader. Once you share the vision, let it sink in with your team. If you can, let them think on it overnight and digest your words. Not all projects have this luxury, but most longer term and high-impact projects will afford you this time.

Revisit and Reverse. Tomorrow, get the team back together. On day 1, you were speaking in statements. Today, you speak in questions. Let your team tell you what they heard, and their reactions. If they regurgitate you word-for-word, they might not have a deep understanding of the vision. Ask leading questions. Make them go deeper. It will be obvious if your vision came across and was accepted.


With an initial investment in the project, your team will be more on-board and ready to tackle it. But that’s only the first ingredient! Let’s move on:


Anxiety = Lack of Skills


Ever feel like a mad scientist in front of your team? I do regularly. I work with some amazing people with amazing work ethic. But they didn’t all go through the engineering, computer science, or business classes that I did.


Your job is no longer to impress your boss with how amazingly intelligent you are. That got you here. But it won’t get you to the next level…


Leaders cure Anxiety by simplifying concepts. Simple is relaxing Click To Tweet


Early in my role, I found myself explaining long complex processes across the room to my team, using nothing but waving hands as my visuals. A couple would be smiling and nodding, some would be looking at their phones or emails and totally disengaged.

But most would be fidgeting uncomfortably, trying to follow, but clearly getting lost in translation. I created anxiety.


As a leader, you need to find out the best way to reach your team. Here’s a simple matrix to explain:
Leader's Communication Strength (1)

You have a strength in communication. For example, I am strong at written word (and if not, let me know in the comments below!), but struggle at speaking simply about complex processes.


Similarly, your team absorbs info differently depending on how it is presented.

Remove Anxiety at the intersection of Strong Communication and Strong Learning Styles





Resistance = Lack of Incentive

Some projects you will feel like you are constantly pulling your team along. Like they are trying to slow the progress at every turn.

Leaders create the desire in their team to achieve the mission Click To Tweet


The question your team is asking behind your back is

What’s in it for me?

Or WIIFM for short. There is a reason sales organizations run off of commission pay plans. It creates a desire inside the team to get to the sale.


What is it in for your team? Have you considered what drives them? Often times it isn’t just money. Ask yourself if they are driven by:

  • Recognition
  • Simple Appreciation
  • Gifts
  • Additional Responsibility
  • The Future of the Organization


The last one deserves some explaining. I see a lot of leaders who fear opening up to the true nature of the business. They fear the team not understanding that any business can fail, including their own. They want to create a “safe,” place for them to work, not concerned about the bigger picture.


I can’t stand this style


We are all adults. We should be expected to be accountable for our actions. If we languish as an organization, we die. Hungrier companies will eat our lunch.


If a team is not driven on a project, do they know what is at stake?


I’m not suggesting you go Chicken Little on them and create panic. But be open. Does the project have an impact for the future of company? What does success look like? What does failure look like?


If the outcome doesn’t excite you, you can’t expect it to excite them.


Frustration = Lack of Resources

Time, Money, Energy. Everything we do depletes our resources. When you take on a new project and bring your team into the mix, you need to ask yourself:

  • How many balls are in the air?
  • What are the priorities?
  • Do we have the appetite for this right now?


Many earn their promotions by being “Yes” men who take on every challenge thrown at us and find a way to succeed. Again, this can bring your team to its knees. How many other projects are pulling your team away?


I have learned to be sensitive to my team’s change appetite. They are hungry for change, but it has limits. We tackle a change, get a quick win, and like an appetizer, it makes them hungrier for more change. So we tackle another project, and the team continues to respond. But the more projects we tackle, the more tired they become.


There is a breaking point in all of us. And here's a hint, you won't break first. Care for your team Click To Tweet


Know how much change your team can handle, and play defense for them when you know they have reached their limit. Delegate projects if possible, or prioritize and put projects on hold.


This does require that you are clear on your organization’s priorities. What must happen now, what can be deferred or eliminated? As a recovering “Yes” man, I still struggle with this, but I have seen the overwhelm on my team’s face, and as a compassionate leader, you cannot continue to say yes. You may be setting them up for failure.



False Starts = Lack of Action Plan


Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. In lean projects, half of the project is the planning phase. This is so painful, because the fun part is in the DOING part. The solution.


You WILL jump to solutions. Your team will jump with you. Learn to temper your enthusiasm and be systematic in your problem solving. Too many false starts, and your team will spin their wheels. You will fall into a rut and constantly rework your solution.


You need an Action Plan. Slow Down to Speed Up Click To Tweet


So what is an Action plan? I’ll reserve that for a future post, but in short:

Every Project is a PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act


When creating the action plan, be the mentor. It is easy to charge first into battle barking orders and dictating the plan. It is much harder (but more successful) to have your team create the plan with you. Have them take lead. Ask questions and lead them to think outside the box. This will make them:

  • Take ownership of the plan and the results
  • Discover more creative solutions than any one could alone
  • Grow. Your job as leader is to mentor and build their capacity


With a solid action plan, you will be ready to tackle the project and find your success.


So What Now?

Think through the projects you have led. Have you noticed any of the symptoms above in your team? Analyze them, learn where you veered off the path. Learn from it. And more importantly, consider all 6 ingredients when you are assigned your next project.


To help your next project, I’ve created a list of __ questions to ask yourself to see if you have the right ingredients for success. Sign up Below to download!