In my last post, I wrote about the archetypes of Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Periodic Contributors, Adept Adventurers, and Thought Leaders. I discussed the critical role each plays and introduced the Thought Leader as one who has a central role in helping our profession realize its who we are potential. In this post, I will address more specifics related to what it takes to be a Thought Leader dedicated to exploring and leveraging how we show up as part of the value we create for clients.
True Thought Leaders Are Rare
We can’t all function as Solid Performers or Adept Adventurers, nor can we all operate as Thought Leaders—and that is a good thing. Our professional community needs to reflect the full range of roles to properly serve clients and advance the craft.
My intent in writing this series isn’t to convince everyone to pursue being a Thought Leader; it is to call out those with this predisposition and ask that you come forward and become more visibly engaged. Thought Leaders spend considerable time and energy pondering new observations and sharing their perspectives in coaching/mentoring relationships, speeches, writings, etc. If there were too many active at this level there wouldn’t be enough practitioners left to benefit from all their wisdom.
There are change facilitators in our ranks who have not yet gravitated to Thought Leader status (but will), and some who are not cut out for it but still serve their clients and help mature our profession in their own way. This is a designation that, by definition, will always represent a small portion of those in our field. I personally know only a few senior practitioners whom I view as Thought Leaders who attend to who we are issues specifically within the change execution profession. Among them are Linda and Dean Anderson, and Mel Toomey. I’m not suggesting these are the only ones out there—they are just practitioners of this nature with whom I’m most familiar.
There are plenty of contributors to who we are perspectives in related fields (counseling, coaching, education, and even our closest relative, organizational development) that change agents have borrowed from over the years. However, Thought Leaders who have broken new who we are ground specifically intended for organizational change practitioners are rare, and that is the point of this blog series.
Why are there so few? First, there aren’t many Thought Leaders in general, much less those attending to who we are issues. Not everyone has the foundational elements needed for such a role. But, beyond the basic prerequisites is the weight of the role itself. The demands are high and call for a commitment to both client work and the present and future of our profession. Thought Leaders’ laboratories are the organizations in which they practice their craft, whether as internal agents or external consultants. As such, every day, they must focus on the changes they are assigned to support, while also remaining vigilant for any new observation, emerging pattern, or insight that could help further the profession’s growth.
These are the requirements of any Thought Leader. The focus for this writing, however, is the need for more pioneers in the who we are space, so let’s take a closer look at some of the unique features of those who push the envelope regarding this aspect of practicing our craft.
This doesn’t make sense in the classic, win-lose business model mindset, where intellectual property is protected from rival access. Thought Leaders, however, carry two responsibilities: one is centered on their own practice or business and one is focused on advancing the profession. Balancing these influences can present conflicting priorities, but generally speaking, Thought Leaders disseminate what they learn openly and broadly.
They do so because, in most cases, they don’t think in terms of zero sum situations. They believe that it is good for their own proprietary interest for the overall profession to raise its game.
- Thought Leaders are dedicated to transferring capability. It is fulfilling for them to see recipients of their work (clients, colleagues, and competitors) not only apply what was shared but take it to a level beyond what the Thought Leader envisioned. When this happens, not only does the professional community benefit, but the Thought Leader profits by becoming a recipient of the learning received back from his or her former student and is freed to address more sophisticated who we are challenges.
- Finally, serving as a Thought Leader demands both vulnerability and self-confidence. It involves a consistent commitment to experimentation that is fueled by new insights, understandings, and the questions they raise. The gains that are enjoyed are punctuated by plenty of mistakes—some small, some major—and learning from them. In this way, thought leadership is not for the meek or the grandiose.
- While there is acceptance of the accountability that comes with others being influenced by their perspectives, Thought Leaders are also humbled by the responsibility that comes with that label and never takes it for granted. They know that the designation people have conferred on them must be re-earned every day.
Some environments nurture thought leadership, while others stifle it. In the last post of this series, I will address what is required to cultivate 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
In the first post of this series, I explained that there is plenty of cutting-edge thinking about our frameworks, tools, and methodologies, but little thought leadership related to the who we are side of our craft.
For Thought Leaders to be fully appreciated, they must be seen in context. Think of them as representing the high end of a benefit continuum that reflects the value change agents provide those they serve. Because of their depth of experience, Thought Leaders offer a rare grasp of the complexities and nuances associated with practicing our craft. At the other extreme are Eager Apprentices who are early in their development and not yet in a position to contribute much to the benefit continuum. In between are Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, and Periodic Contributors. Consider these as five maturation archetypes, each playing a critical role in both the success of organizational change and the advancement of our profession.
It is easy to see how these archetypes play out in regards to what we do:
There are plenty of examples of how each of the archetypes relate to the concepts, frameworks, processes, and techniques we use when engaged with clients. Most people in our field, however, have no role models or guidance on how these five exemplars relate to “showing up” in our work. I contend that we should apply the same distinctions to the who we are aspects of practicing our craft:
As practitioners develop professionally and progress further on the benefit continuum, each level attained incorporates and expands on the prior levels. This means all five archetypes play an important part in the value chain of our profession. They are clearly differentiated, but not in a way that suggests one is better than another. Whatever archetype one occupies at a given time, there is value to be dispensed. For some, the benefits are rationed only to clients and associates. For others, the insights and lessons learned are made available on a broader scale.
The bottom line is we need the full complement of archetypes applied to both what we do and who we are if we are to serve our clients and continue to evolve as a professional discipline. The field of change execution has done a relatively good job of utilizing the archetypes toward learning, using, and teaching others the methodologies associated with our craft, but we are lagging far behind when it comes to doing the same for the who we are side of our work.
In the next post, I’ll show how the five levels can and should be applied to fostering a greater emphasis on the practitioner’s character and presence. In posts 4 and 5, I’ll pay particular attention to the role of Thought Leader.
In my view, there is ample thought leadership devoted to what we do as change practitioners. Actually, there could never be enough, but those who are contributing to our profession’s advancement in this way have had, and will continue to have, a significant influence on extending the horizon of what is possible in our field. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the who we are side of our work.
To have the kind of trusted-advisor relationship with those we serve that creates real value, we must have both logical and emotional connections with them. Well-executed tools and techniques can impress a client’s intellect, but it takes a strong character and a trusting presence to speak to his or her heart. Character and presence separate those change technicians focused on submitting deliverables and meeting timelines from masterful practitioners who also provide valuable insight and wisdom to their clients. Yet the majority of time and energy allocated to professional development in our field centers on the concepts and frameworks in support of what we do, and not the introspective exploration required to delve into who we are as we engage in our activities.
As a result, most change practitioners haven’t invested much in exploring how they “show up.” It is understandable, then, why so little thought leadership has surfaced in this realm. This lack of attention to how our core nature affects our work first contributes to—and then combines with—the resulting scarcity of thought leadership. It forms a self-reinforcing cycle that hinders our profession from breaking out of the constraining orbit we have fashioned for ourselves. Until change practitioners view who they are on a par with what they do, our profession will not be able to break free and fully realize the value it is capable of creating.
The intent of this series is to issue a call to action for us as a professional community. It is time to step into a new era where we pursue more frequent and deeper investigations of how we show up when engaged in our work. We must also take more responsibility for creating thought leadership to support this aspect of our individual and collective development. That is, we need to be more vigilant about registering, documenting, and disseminating new perspectives about bringing our full selves into play when serving as change advisors.
Greater awareness of the importance that character and presence play in practicing our craft will lead to a corresponding increase in related thought leadership, which, in turn, will foster greater awareness. I believe these two components, when combined, can gain enough momentum to break free from the stifling impact on our effectiveness that results when a disproportionate amount of our developmental energy goes toward advancing what we do. Awareness and thought leadership are essential links to forming a self-reinforcing cycle that can help propel us toward living up to our individual and collective professional potential.
What Is Thought Leadership?
Maybe the best place to begin is by describing what thought leadership isn’t. There are numerous activities in which people can engage that might qualify them as an authority in a specialized field such as ours. However, that does not mean they are thought leaders.
None of the following make you a thought leader in the field of change execution:
Some of what I’ve included in this listing may come as a surprise. Many people assume that expertise, publishing, speechmaking, notoriety, innovation, and/or commercial success can secure a position as a thought leader. In my opinion, this is not the case. Although thought leaders are typically associated with these distinctions, the characteristics alone don’t justify the title. The bar for authentic thought leadership is set at a much higher level.
Now let’s look at what really makes you a thought leader:
If it sounds like the bar to qualify as a genuine thought leader is high, it’s because it is. If it appears out of reach for most people, this is true as well, but not necessarily because of a lack of capability. Many people have the requisite knowledge, skill, experience, and insight to fill a thought leader’s role but choose not to, due to the time and effort it takes or because what they possess that could benefit the entire profession might lessen a competitive advantage they feel they have by keeping it to themselves. The fact that true thought leadership is difficult to achieve and not even within one’s control doesn’t mean there aren’t other avenues for “thought value” contribution. There are several options for advancing our profession’s maturation that are not as demanding as thought leadership and generate significant value for our field. These will be discussed in the next post.
My point here is that we need to be clear about what thought leadership is and isn’t if we are going to address what I believe is a gaping hole in our professional community’s advancement potential. Every year, we generate an unending stream of state-of-the-art thinking related to what we do (framework, techniques, etc.) but there is very little thought leadership available devoted to who we are. It is my hope that, in the future, there will be both more engagement around how we show up as change practitioners and a corresponding increase in thought leadership to support this aspect of our work.
In the next post, I’ll explore the relevancy of thought leadership as a part of the character and presence necessary for the effective practice of our craft.