The Five Archetypes of Thought Leadership

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Categories: Thought Leadership

So far in this series, I have stressed the need for an increased focus on thought leadership regarding character and presence (post 1). I also introduced five archetypes—Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, Periodic Contributors, and Thought Leaders—as part of a benefit continuum that reflects the value change agents provide those they serve. In this post, I will explain how each archetype exemplifies a different way in which character and presence play a role in the practice of our craft.

Eager Apprentices

Becoming an Eager Apprentice of who we are has nothing to do with a person’s age or length of time serving as a professional change facilitator. This level is engaged whenever practitioners first recognize the potential that character and presence can play in their work—and commit to developing that side of themselves along with their technical competence (concepts, tools, and techniques). This awareness may occur early in their career while learning the basics of what we do, or after many years in the profession, long after technical expertise has been well established. In either case, stepping into this archetype represents important implications, both for an individual and for our profession. 

At a personal level, becoming an Eager Apprentice launches a journey where the destination is the pursuit itself, not a predetermined terminal point of learning. The more practitioners uncover about themselves, the more there is to explore further. In this respect, although being an Eager Apprentice is a beginning, the only way the quest ever ends is if the practitioner satisfies his or her thirst for introspective discovery and there is no longer the passion for diving further into who we are.  

As it relates to the profession of change execution, Eager Apprentices constitute the pool from which the remaining four archetypes can emerge. Without this cadre of enthusiastic novices, there would be no future Thought Leaders focused on character and presence. This continuing stream of new entrants is our only hope of one day seeing enough Thought Leaders to support who we are as a priority for our profession.

Solid Performers

Practicing our craft can range from being incredibly easy to extremely difficult, depending on the change we are chartered to support and the environment in which we work. No matter how simple or grueling those changes are, having Solid Performers who are committed to bringing forward who they are into their work is invaluable.

Solid Performers have moved beyond their Eager Apprenticeship role, where they learned what contributes to being “out of sync” with their true nature and the various ways their presence could better align with their character. They are now skilled in building and sustaining trusting relationships with their sponsors, peers, and others they work with based on expressing who they really are (instead of projecting a false image to keep others comfortable). As a result, they have integrated their technical credibility (methodology) with their personal authenticity (their state of being), resulting in a heightened effectiveness when serving clients.

Although committed to their own expression of who they are, those in this archetype devote little attention toward urging other practitioners to follow suit.

Adept Adventurers

The Adept Adventurer is critical to the success of highly difficult change initiatives. No matter how effectively such changes are planned, the unexpected will arise and require change practitioners to show up in ways they have not before. The alignment between character and presence that they achieved as Solid Performers is tested and often they find the gains made in how they show up are no longer enough for the challenges they face. Unless prepared to step into new, uncharted territory regarding exploring, and bringing forward and integrating who they are into their work, practitioners put the change at risk and also hinder their own advancement as change facilitators.

When stepping into the unknown, the Adept Adventurer does so with reason and intuition. At this level, it takes both an understanding that mistakes are inevitable and the courage to persevere when progress seems slow or nonexistent. This kind of tenacity is important if the practitioner is to gain new insights into how his or her character and presence can be brought forward as part of the value proposition to clients.

As a result of their diligence, Adept Adventurers are able to shed enough ego to avoid always having to be right. This frees them to take some risks as they explore new implications about their character and presence. In turn, they foster a level of trust with their sponsors that allows them to engage in the depth of conversation that such risks warrant. Adept Adventurers consider the character and presence they bring to their work as essential ingredients for this kind of risk taking and trust building.

Despite the capacity to experiment with new ways to strengthen and leverage who they are, Adept Adventurers are primarily focused on their own personal/professional growth and how that can contribute to specific change projects. Except when called for within a specific project, they seldom invest in passing on their learning to Eager Apprentices or Solid Performers. This lack of sharing isn’t done out of malice, nor is it even an intentional act of withholding. It’s just that advancing practitioners throughout the profession isn’t a priority…it’s not part of their personal agenda. They would happily answer another’s questions and wouldn’t hesitate to provide any support they could, if asked to help others who struggle with integrating their character and presence, but they aren’t proactive about engaging such discussions.

Periodic Contributors

Those who step into the Periodic Contributor archetype are moving beyond integrating their character/presence into specific change initiatives. They have explored enough of this territory to have identified a few important insights and lessons they are sometimes willing to share with others. When the circumstances are right, they will help promote who we are as being on an equal par with what we do.  They also offer their views about how showing up in the work can create value for clients.

Periodic Contributors are committed to and skilled at leveraging their true nature as a key asset when working with their clients. They occasionally focus on fostering awareness around issues like character and presence, but not with any consistency. They are not indifferent toward having our professional community embrace who we are as part of its core. In fact, most practitioners at this level will say they would like to see that occur. They just don’t feel compelled to help  make it happen.

Periodic Contributors will, on occasion, go out of their way to speak or write about topics like character and presence. It is not the norm, but it is also not unusual for them to have a one-on-one conversation, deliver a speech, or write an article or blog post advocating the importance of bringing who we are to the forefront of change facilitation.

At this point in the evolution of our profession, it is important that we encourage and nurture Periodic Contributors. They are our future. This archetype helps promote the advancement of things like character and presence as critical components to providing value to clients. They don’t advocate for this to the extent Thought Leaders do, but are still an important part of the supporting infrastructure for helping the who we are mindset gain a stronger foothold. Also, they are just one step removed from the most influential force we have toward embracing how we show up as a vital part of our profession’s value proposition.

Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders, Eager Apprentices, and each of the archetypes in between are capable of delivering their respective value to clients. That said, it is Thought Leaders who make the most significant contribution to the advancement of our field. This is true for both what we do and who we are. Specific to how we show up in our work, they have a disproportionately positive impact on helping our professional community recognize the importance of character and presence when fulfilling change facilitation duties. Thought Leaders who focus on who we are have a vital role in raising awareness about this aspect of practicing our craft, but there’s a problem—there aren’t enough of them.

One of the factors contributing to our profession’s anemic mindshare for who we are issues and challenges is the near absence of Thought Leaders attentive to this topic. With so little of this kind of advocacy and guidance available, to whom do the apprentices, performers, adventurers, and contributors turn? Far too many practitioners showing an interest in this area are left on their own. They try to integrate character and presence into their work but without the benefit of what has been learned from those who have previously forged paths through some of these same challenges.

We need more Thought Leaders to help propel our profession into a new phase of its evolution, where character and presence is considered at least as important as what practitioners know and know how to do.

With more Thought Leaders in support of who we are, our profession could be positioned for an increasingly strong and successful future. As we individually and collectively strengthen our character and presence, we will be better prepared to step into the challenges we face, to provide sponsors the guidance they require for success, and to support the next generation of practitioners who are coming after us.

My next two posts will probe deeply into the role of the Thought Leader.

Posted on: August 27, 2013 11:35 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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I like and agree with this, but I would say that these five archetypes are only part of the spectrum of change agents - they are the ones who actively, deliberately, and consciously "practice their craft' to some degreee to knowingly be agents of change.

These are NOT the entirety of change agents, in fact in some environments they are a minority - the majority is driven by change agents who are less conscious of what they do - ranging from those that are completely unknowing but create change simply by who they are, the principles and views they hold and broadcast or demonstrate, or the knwoeldge they convey. There are those who consciously seek change but do this entirely instinctively. There are even some who seek to stop change - and unwittingly create it because in the process they direct things down another path of change.

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