To Lead Change, First Change Yourself

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Barbara Trautlein, PhD

We have seen over and over again that leadership is the key to successful major organizational change (from Jack Welch in his early days at GE to Meg Whitman at eBay). However for change to be effective and lasting, those who lead change must first change themselves.

 Here are five simple but effective ways leaders can accomplish this:

  • Change Your Story. Reframe resistance. Resistance in organizations is like the immune system in the body: It protects against harmful invaders from the outside. Just like pain in the body is a symptom something is wrong, resistance is a sign to which managers should pay attention. The goal is not to eradicate it, but to allow it to surface so it can be explored and addressed. To lead more effectively, learn to see resistance as your ally, not your enemy.
  • Change Your Stance. Picture a triangle. Often, we view ourselves on one angle, others at another angle, and “the problem” on the third angle. In our minds, it feels as if it’s us against the other people as well as the problem. That's exhausting. Instead, reenvision yourself and others as working together to solve the problem. Move from feeling and acting against others, or doing something to others (or even in spite of others), to working with and even for them.  If you can make this simple mindset shift, how you will almost immediately become more partnership-related to others.
  • Change Your Seat. What you see depends on where you sit. Change looks very different from different levels of the organizational hierarchy. Those at the top are typically isolated. Those at the bottom are most resistant. Those in the middle are squeezed. Sit in others’ seats and appreciate their pressures. Adapt your approach and messages to the diverse needs and concerns of these very different audiences.
  • Change Your Style. We all know the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. To lead change effectively, follow the Platinum Rule:  Do unto others as they want to be done unto. Tell stories they can relate to. Share statistics relevant to them. Demonstrate what’s in it for everyone to work together in new ways to achieve common goals.
  • Change Your Strategy. Sometimes what looks like resistance to change is really a situation where people don’t get it, don’t want it, or are unable to do it. Engage people by explaining the “why” and “what” of the change. Help the “head” understand the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Paint a clear picture of the target and the end game. Inspire the “heart” to care about the change objectives by engaging with others, actively listening, dealing with fears and insecurities, and building trust. Help the “hands” apply the change by providing tactics, training and tools, and eliminating barriers standing in people’s way.

The good news: None of these prescriptions require leaders to change who they are. They are all about shifts in mindsets and behaviors, along with the flexibility to adapt your leadership approach to get everyone where they need to go. It's amazing how when we change, others change.

It’s been said before, and it’s true: “Be the change you wish to see in the world. That's true leadership.”

To hone your ability to help implement change, consider these AMA seminars:

About the Author(s)

Barbara Trautlein, PhD is principal and founder of Change Catalysts ( She is the author of the book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks and the originator of the CQ®/Change Intelligence® System. She has over 20 years of experience empowering people to achieve transformational professional and personal goals.