Becoming a change leader (Yes, you!)

By Maya Townsend, Partnering Resources

Maya Townsend
Maya Townsend

These days, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a clinical trial manager, patient care associate, or nurse practitioner. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to lead change.

When faced with the need to lead change, people often figure that all it takes is to buckle down and work harder than usual. And that is the problem. Change leadership isn’t about working harder. It’s about working differently.

In the old world, when you weren’t leading change, you focused on individual successes. To ramp up performance, you learned more, became more specialized, perhaps cross-trained, sought out new opportunities, or asked for high-profile assignments. All of these actions involve improving you: your knowledge, your breadth of experience, your profile, or your internal brand.

Now, leading change, you’re no longer measured on what you know or what you can accomplish. You’re measured on how well you can get others to implement and adopt the change. This takes a different focus than individual performance.

What You Can Expect When Leading Change

You’ll spend more time than you ever anticipated talking with people. You’ll talk with people who like the change, people who oppose the change, people who are helping plan the change, end users of the change, and people who’ve never heard of your project. These conversations are necessary and important since they are the ones who need to influence in order to be successful.

You’ll spend even more time listening than you do talking.  You’ll need to keep your ears open to feedback: What’s working well? What’s getting in the way? What concerns do people have? What ideas do they have about how to address those concerns while still moving towards the goal?

Some people will think what you’re doing is a total waste of time. These people may have important insights into the potential consequences of the change. Listen in order to understand what’s at stake.

Is it a serious content or implementation issue that needs to be addressed? If so, it’s time to put on the problem solving hat—perhaps asking the very one who complained for their advice—and work through the issue.

Is it an expression of people’s fear that they’ll lose power, influence, or mastery as a result of the change? If so, you’ll also need to figure out how to make the benefits of the change attractive enough that people will risk the perceived losses.

A small number of people will be happy about what you’re doing. Keep these people close. You’ll need their enthusiasm, support, and advice as you proceed. You’ll particularly need them during bouts of “this will never work” or “I can’t wait for this project to be over” that you’ll inevitably experience. Let the cheerleaders boost your spirits during these times.

Now that you know what to expect, what can you do to increase your chances of success? Join me at Becoming a Change Leader (Yes You!) at the 2012 HBA Leadership Conference in order to learn the one method that, if implemented, makes a change initiative 10 times more likely to succeed.

Maya Townsend, Founder and Lead Consultant at Partnering Resources, helps organizations meet complex change and collaboration challenges. She publishes articles on change and collaboration in outlets such as Chief Learning Officer, CIO.Com,, and Future of Work Enabled and serves on the Editorial Board for OD Practitioner. She edited chapters on change management and employee engagement for the forthcoming Handbook for Strategic HR.  Clients include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, and the Holyoke Health Center. She can be reached at


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