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2 Attributes of Great Change Leaders

A constant in life and business is change. Handle change well and win; handle it poorly and fail. After reviewing 40 years of data analytics from 1,435 companies, Jim Collins concluded that "good is the enemy of great." In an environment of perpetual change, the enemy of great change leadership is good change management. Good change management involves minimizing disruptions, avoiding costly mistakes, and control. In contrast, great change leadership maximizes business speed, efficiency, and innovation. Like a fast driver and a car capable of high speed, businesses with leaders that possess these two attributes can win and set the pace for others to follow.

Leadership Attributes Matter

There are always two games at play: an inner game that no one sees and an outer game that others observe And, it is the inner game that is silently controlling the outer game.

In a seven-year study of 9,000 employees and 84 executive leaders in Fortune 500 and 100 organizations, evidence suggested that leaders with higher character ratings had a return on net assets of nearly five times those rated lower.

In another study involving 2,000 manufacturing companies, researchers discovered that virtues had a more significant positive impact on organizational performance and quality than management control processes.

Personal story: Years ago, I was making a succession planning and leadership development presentation to a senior leadership team. My leader wasn't a part of the meeting. But, my boss's leader was. My goal was to review the past year's outcomes and make a pitch for future talent management investments. I was nervously waiting outside the executive board room, going through the presentation in my head. My boss's boss stepped out of the board room, told me a joke, and walked in with me. The presentation went well. However, I misspoke at one point, and my boss's leader quickly chimed in to cover me. I remember feeling humbled by his kindness and servant's heart. Outer game habits like that don't just happen.

Unlocking your inner game attributes maximizes your leadership potential.

The following two attributes are proven to create a change engine:

1. Selfless Love

Can you name the five wealthiest people in the world? How about five people who taught you something worthwhile? People who make the most difference in our lives often do not have the most credentials, money, or awards. They are the ones who care the most about us and are closest to us.

Love enhances relationships that matter. However, selfless love can be a complex topic to understand, especially within the context of the workplace and leadership.

Selfless love, simply stated, is about doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons. It leads to making sacrifices in the best interest of followers and the team mission.

The benefits of leaders applying selfless love in the workplace include:

  • A better workplace climate. Modern leaders in companies of all sizes face challenges attracting, hiring, and retaining the right team. All you have to do is drive down any street or walk through your local retail district to see signs for "help wanted." Having an excellent workplace climate is a proven talent magnet and boosts employee morale.

  • Enhanced organizational commitment. Research has directly connected higher levels of organizational commitment with lower intent to leave measures. Strengthening organizational commitment maximizes employee productivity, job performance, and emotional well-being.

  • Increased employee creativity. No organization is looking to stay the same year over year. Innovation is required to remain relevant and be successful in business. When leaders display selfless love, it increases creativity during change.

2. Vision

You are driving through the mountains, and you come around a bend in the road, and suddenly without warning, there is a blanket of fog on the road. What do you do? Are you able to go faster when it is foggy or clear? The answer is obvious. Everyone can go faster when it is clear.

We live in uncertain times! People want to follow a leader that can share a vision of a better future and help rise above the fog. Too often in the chaos of the moment, change is often approached from a mindset of what is wrong. The opportunity to connect with followers on what might be is missed. Effective change leadership envisions hope for a better future.

It can be challenging to balance creating value for customers, followers, and the organization. For example, what is the appropriate reaction when technology pushes alignment and consistency and the market pulls for customer focus?

Change leadership discourages either/or thinking and encourages both/and thinking. Change leaders ask questions like:

  • What can be done with the SAP implementation to serve our customers better?

  • What can be done with the customer to improve the SAP implementation?

This paradoxical thinking requires perseverance grounded in motivation for better customers, communities, organizations, and futures for followers. Change leaders find solutions in shifting from linear to cyclical thinking between apparent opposites.

Ultimately, a leader's vision can be accepted or rejected by team members and stakeholders. This fact is a tough pill for most any leader to swallow. Great change leaders know how to inspire others through their words.

1 Fundamental Change Leadership Good Habit

An essential practice of great change leadership involves making critical reflection a leadership habit. A study of 486 companies over two and a half years demonstrated that organizations with a higher percentage of self-aware leaders outperformed organizations with a lower rate. Poor-performing businesses had 20 percent more leaders with blind spots than high-performing businesses.

These three ideas can help you turn critical reflection into a leadership habit.

  • Journaling. Use a journaling app like Day Oneservant'sto capture your thoughts, feelings, successes, and frustrations. This approach is demonstrdon'tted to be incredibly impactful on leader-follower relationships, clarity of purpose, and improving new skills. Like building any habit, start small and tie the new habit to an existing practice, such as your routine before you leave the office for the day.

  • Soliciting follower feedback. Critical reflection should be a social process. It is proven to be most successful when collaborative. Leaders benefit from understanding how followers perceive their actions. Using questions grounded in curiosity improves critical reflection. Also, 360 leadership surveys that gather feedback from your leader, peers, and direct reports create the opportunity to identify hidden strengths and blind spots as well as comparisons between yourself and others.

  • Learning from thought leaders. Books, articles, and assessments on leadership can enable leaders to examine different points of view, supporting your critical reflection. Thought leadership grounded in research provides leaders with proven solutions that can be applied and short cycle the learning process. If you are not a skilled speed reader, you may be surprised to know that you can learn how to read a book in an hour. Like any other skill, there are tips and tricks to increase your speed and retention.

Change leadership is like an engine maximizing speed, efficiency, and innovation. Leaders overcome the enemy of great by applying the attributes of selfless love and vision.

What would help you the most right now to establish better relationships and a vision of hope for a better future?


Ferris, R. (1988). How organizational love can improve leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4), 41-51.

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (Seventh Edition ed.).

Patterson, K. (2003, October 16). Servant leadership: A theoretical model [PDF].

van Dierendonck, D., & Patterson, K. (2015). Compassionate love as a cornerstone of servant leadership: An integration of previous theorizing and research.

Winston, B. E., & Patterson, K. (2006). An integrative definition of leadership. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), 6-66.

Winston, B. E. (2002). Be a leader for sake: From Values to Behaviors (Rev. ed.).

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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