Why organizations need changemakers and how to spot them

image: woman standing with crossed arms

Changemakers don’t just adapt, they shape the future.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin

How many firms or industries can you name that have been transformed by digital technologies? Some have successfully adapted to survive, but others were not so lucky. Think Blockbuster and the disrupter, Netflix. In fact, the entire video rental and movie industries have been disrupted by Netflix. IBM was a hardware firm and then, a PC firm. Today, it is in the business of helping firms transform to the digital age. Amazon launched as an online bookstore, but quickly transformed into a digital platform for the world of online commerce and is now on the verge of transforming the physical retail store and at the forefront of deploying digital technologies to transform logistics and consumer experience. New technological developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are only beginning to impact a range of industries. Change driven by innovation is the only constant.

To lead in this age of phenomenal change, we need changemakers. Changemakers don’t just adapt, they shape the future. And it’s not just leaders that need to develop a changemaker mindset; it’s everyone in an organization. So, what are the characteristics of being a changemaker?

A futuristic mindset

Being a changemaker requires embracing a futuristic mindset. Often, the needs of the present are quite different from what is needed for success in the future. Changemakers are strongly biased to the future and make decisions aligned with the future. Such a decision-making approach will inevitably be met with forces of resistance that see the decision as a threat to maintaining the status quo.

Disciplined and bold

To be successful in overcoming these forces, changemakers need to be disciplined and bold in their execution. Far too many firms have lacked disciplined execution and they begin their transformational journey with fanfare, only to abandon it shortly thereafter. Leaders who are changemakers build a team that has the courage to withstand the forces of resistance.

Earn the trust

Being agents of change requires that changemakers earn the trust of the very best in the organization. A high level of trust empowers the changemaker and the entire team to dream big.

Connect with people

A critical foundation to earn trust is for changemakers to connect with people on a meaningful level. This requires deep empathy and genuine curiosity to understand the life experiences of the team; to go beyond their roles and responsibilities and holistically understand what drives them.

Demonstrate humility, inspiration, collaboration, selflessness and caring

Changemakers have humility. They realize that adaptation is fraught with risks and the best way to get an assessment of whether an idea will work is to act, learn, adjust and repeat the cycle. Perspectives different from their own are embraced through the lens of curiosity and analyzed deeply based on evidence. Changemakers are unequivocal in acknowledging their mistakes.

Changemakers are inspiring. The journey of change and adaptation requires persistence and positivity. And changemakers delineate the never-give-up attitude and exude positive energy in the face of most difficult challenges.

Changemakers are collaborative. While the source of this quote – “If you want to travel fast, travel alone, but if you want to go far, travel together” – is difficult to track, changemakers recognize the power of collaboration, and to this end, pull a team together that has the traits of changemakers.

Changemakers are selfless and caring. The passionate commitment to the change for good is their driving force. In this vein, they are selfless and generously give credit for the success to others. And the difficult decisions they make in the best interest of the organization are coupled with care for people. Some see the difficult decisions as being disconnected from care, but changemakers are equally wedded to both.

Let it go

Changemakers let it go. Far too many instances of friction are inevitable in implementing change. Changemakers do not dwell on this negative energy. They let it go and move on.

Is it possible to train people to be changemakers? There are certainly many attributes that can be introduced to enable the development of changemakers, but it is difficult to say we will be guaranteed success in all instances. It is a combination of the inherent DNA that the changemakers bring, coupled with their development, that characterizes the best changemakers.

Does your organization have changemakers?