The role of the change agent is not an easy one. Often the people who see the possibilities for change are different in some ways from the culture in which they work. These differences are often what make them so valuable as change agents.There is an old saying in consulting: “Watch out for the organization antibodies.” Just as in a physical body, there are antibodies in organizations that neutralize things that seem threatening or different. If you appear to be too different– particularly if you are threatening to create change – you too can be neutralized.What to do? We want to be ourselves and we want to make a difference. Do we hide the parts of ourselves we aren’t sure others will appreciate or can even handle, or do we dare to be different and risk the consequences?
The key is to use your authenticity to influence others, not alienate them. It can be a fine line to walk that requires a certain level of self mastery. Authenticity is not a choice between “telling everyone how it is” or remaining silent. Influence comes from being relevant and real.
Here are a few guidelines for igniting change through authentic influence:
- Listen to your heart. Get clear on why the change you are focusing on is meaningful to you and to the people and systems it will impact. Get past your own soapbox conversation and find the essence of why what you are about really matters. This will give you the courage of your convictions. Believe me, real authenticity requires quiet, consistent, persistent courage. Find yours.
- Read the organizational tea leaves. What are people able to hear right now? Start there and build connections to the larger themes you want to introduce.
- Listen to the people whose support you need and connect your messages to the things that matter most to them. If you’re pushing for culture change, note how the current culture limits the company’s ability to fulfill its strategy, and build the business case for the new culture.
- Be yourself, but be your best self. Be the person you hope others will emulate. You will see opportunities to influence more quickly and clearly if you are centered, focused and calm. Drama kings and queens usually get taken out by the antibodies.
- Look for the key assumptions that are “holding up the old story” and gently but directly challenge those when you have the opportunity. For example, if the argument goes, “We’ve always done it this way,” that could be an opportunity share a story about how a new way of working is delivering results – either inside or outside the company. It will probably take time before the old story collapses and makes way for the new. That’s okay. Laying the groundwork for significant change can take time. But the change can happen very quickly when the pieces come together.
- Separate who you are from what you do. Don’t let your self-worth get tied up in the outcome of the change effort. Be sure to cultivate other things in your personal and professional life that make you happy and bring you a sense of satisfaction. The passion for change should inspire you – and others – not consume you.
Authentic influence is the most powerful force a change agent has to work with. Cultivate your ability to use it well for the greater good of all concerned.