Two Characteristics of a Successful Change Agent

In today’s workplace, being a change agent is crucial or soon your organization will become a fossilized relic. Merely staying the course is not enough. You must stay ahead of the pack or be swallowed up and spit out the back. Forbes states, “The demand for leadership that is willing and capable of tackling change management head-on, already in short supply, is at a premium.”

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Change is only going to get faster as time progresses. Don’t believe me? Look at your job description. I bet if it’s over one year old it’s outdated. You will have to reinvent yourself several times over the next five years.

Change is only going to get faster as time progresses.

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A change agent is not confined to operational improvements, cost efficiencies and process reengineering. Change is now much bigger, more interwoven to the very essence of your organization’s existence. The WHY of your organization may even be morphing if it was not defined broadly and accurately enough in its inception.

As an example, I have a friend who years ago deemed herself “a wallpaper expert.” Then tastes changed and faux painting became all the rage. She could have then changed her self-understanding to “a faux painter.” That still wouldn’t have been correct. What is she really? A “wall treatment provider.” Ideally she would actually shape the culture by creating a new type of treatment she could patent that became all the rage.


You must be able to slow down enough to see what is coming and call for adjustments. Many times, leaders think being a change agent means rapidly shooting from the hip and guessing what to do. This is an unstudied and undisciplined approach when calling for change might bring the WRONG change. A change leader must fiercely guard his or her observation and thinking time. All distracting tasks must be pushed aside.

Two things must happen in gaining awareness.

Determining Where the Culture Is Headed

Take a read on what is happening culturally. Observe emerging habits, desires and trends. Be a student of culture of all types, art, business, technology, people and more. You must carve out time to read, study, and observe. But you must go farther. You must be able to connect the dots others cannot. You can learn to do this, draw a line between two cultural trends that seem unconnected and disassociated. This takes time and deep reflection.

Develop “spherical vision” to see around, above and beneath and beyond the obvious to anticipate the future before circumstances force your hand.

Determining How You Will Lead Culture

Being a true change agent means you don’t merely observe culture and react. Rather you set about shaping the culture. If culture is a sloshy swimming pool, you provide the lane ropes to guide the culture.

Something that sets Apple apart from other companies is that they were so on the cusp of culture they proactively shaped culture rather than merely reacting to it. The iPod’s simplicity actually changed the way the entire music industry works. Before the iPod, CD’s were the norm, music labels ruled the roost, and music was thought of in terms of albums.

No more. The iPod ushered in the mp3/digital track. Consumers now bought individual songs they liked and not complete albums. Artists could release straight to iTunes and labels saw their monopolistic power deteriorate.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to define their strategy for changing the culture, as this represents the basis for ultimate accountability and action. If you don’t know where you want your organization to go, how you want your employees and customers to grow, and what your plan is to get there – your intentions don’t really matter.

Without this strategy, change is merely substituting other activities in place of real evolutionary ones. Going in the wrong direction fast isn’t a noble endeavor. Go in the right direction with the right timing.


Changing how you personally act makes you merely a changer. Influencing others to change is what makes you a change agent. Every organization must have someone to push the boundaries of what can be done to move quicker with a larger amount of “buy-in” through the process.

In order to change the culture, you must change the individuals in the culture. By providing them a clear picture of the WHY (why it is vital you do what you do) and showing them how valuable they are to the process, you have the ability to affect massive change.

In order to change the culture, you must change the individuals in the culture.

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Learning to influence others is a skill that can be developed. The perception that influence is static and either you have it or not is one that I have given my life to changing. This view wastes tremendous amounts of human potential. Your ability to influence others for positive change can be grown.

Being a Change Agent

You CAN move people from point A to point B. Just remember, not everyone will travel at the same pace. Some people are bent for change and others may be more wired as organizational stabilizers. Both are needed. One makes sure our foot stays on the accelerator and the other keeps us from driving over the cliff. A true change agent is able to bring the most diverse types of people together to accomplish positive, transformational change.

Also, don’t ignore your organization’s “cultural deviants.” There are people in your group who think in a different way and are already doing things in a radically better way. The Harvard Business Review advises you to bring the isolated success strategies of these “positive deviants” into the mainstream.

Change you will. Change you must. In the end, it’s what it means to be a leader.



Karen Keller, Ph.D., CEO of Karen Keller International, Inc., is author and creator of the Keller Influence Indicator® (KII®). She is a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach specializing in influence and human behavior. Dr. Keller develops programs, materials and resources relating to the Art of Influence. Her latest influence report, SOCR®, incorporates a person’s Seven Influence Traits® as related to 5 Organizational Competencies. She is passionate at helping people and companies develop their influence potential and an influence culture. Dr. Keller speaks to groups around the globe about the impact of influence in business and relationships. Contact her at or

  • Stephen Roe

    Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Keller!

    I believe what you’ve written applies equally to how we function as individuals as well. Just like you need to constantly adapt to maintain business success, it’s critical to do the same on an individual level.

    Derek Sivers actually wrote about this just a few days ago, and it stuck in my mind. His premise is that titles we make for ourselves (“entrepreneur” in his case) expire if we don’t do something about them.

    I’d imagine it’s the same with a company. We use Apple as an example of a game-changing company. But in terms of actual cultural change, Microsoft’s concept of licensing its operating system Windows probably changed more in the arena of personal computing than any other development for decades.

    The difference? Microsoft’s title has, arguably, expired. They haven’t done much to change an industry in decades, whereas Apple has disrupted the music, phones, tablet, and watch market in just 20 years. They’ve continued to earn their title.

    Thanks again, great read.

    Sivers article:

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