Change Agents: The personal characteristics required to navigate change

In the class I am teaching on organizational development, my students are studying how to facilitate change, both personally and organizationally. Part of this process has included discussion about the attributes of people who are good at leading change.

Based on our dialogue, here are four attributes of people who effectively facilitate change:

1. They are willing to be wrong. It takes courage to acknowledge that you are wrong. However, a lack of willingness to do so creates a barrier to change. As Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

2. They embrace learning. Some individuals derive a lot of enjoyment from learning new things. As a result, mistakes are a required ingredient in learning new ideas. Bill Nye (the Science Guy) exemplifies this when he states, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t!”.

3. They know how much they don’t know. This relates to my first point about courage but focuses on the attribute of humility instead. It takes humility to acknowledge how much you don’t know. I experienced this a few months ago when a friend gave me a back-handed compliment. He stated, “I enjoy being with you more than I used to because you are less certain of things”. I trust that reflects personal growth in realizing how much I don’t know!

4. They have a thick skin. Sometimes you have to be tough when you learn hard lessons. John Piper once noted that you will never make it if criticism disables you (thanks to Marissa for this great quote and idea). At times, change will require you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again.

In summary, courage, enjoying learning, humility and toughness are all ingredients of people who are good at facilitating change. What are some other attributes you would add to this list?

Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California.


Piper, J.  (2011). The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (p. 25)