Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Mindfully Holding Space (free eBook)

Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?

What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?

A Shift in Blog Cadence

The Thought Leadership Environment

“Love the Music You Play”

In this series, I’ve been talking about how character and presence—who we are—combine with what we do to allow us to have the most impact with our clients.

Ultimate success as a practitioner hinges on your willingness to 1) fully be who you are and 2) limit your clients to those who appreciate what that means. Think of yourself as a musician with your own radio station, specializing in a particular type of music that truly speaks to your heart. Your broadcast goes out in all directions, but only a percentage of the people it reaches have their radios turned on and only a few of those are drawn to the kind of music you provide.

This raises a question: Who is your intended audience? Is it all who are within range of your broadcast, or only those who hold your kind of music in high regard and admire how you perform it?”

Many practitioners in our field judge themselves (and are judged by others) based on the number of people who listen to their “station.” When this is the goal, the only way to succeed is to appeal to the widest possible range of interests and needs. There is nothing wrong with doing this, but it means you can’t play the music you love and are uniquely good at (or you can’t play it often or as passionately as you feel it). In essence, you are a radio station manager trying to attract as many listeners as you can, not a musician trying to reach his or her niche audience. It’s the difference between 1) being a business first and, whenever possible, being true to what you love most, or 2) being true to what you love first and making a business out of it.

The upshot is, catering to what others want to hear comes at the expense of playing your own music—and keep in mind, this isn’t just the music you enjoy, it is also what you are best at.

You can’t wow everyone, but for those who are predisposed to your kind of artistry, you are literately “music to their ears.” Yet, when the “number of listeners” takes precedence over playing for people who are actually affected by your type of music and distinctive style, not only are you less fulfilled, your audience receives less value. 

Playing the kind of music everyone expects may produce crowds, but most of them will be spectators. Audiences receive much more benefit when they truly appreciate the music. Through their engagement and enthusiasm, they actually help create the overall experience themselves, and don’t just sit back, passively taking it all in. This only happens, however, when there is a match between the musician’s uncompromised expression of his or her style and what the audience loves.

If you interpret your task as seeking the largest possible audience, it doesn’t matter what music you play as long as it draws a big gathering. If you view your role as that of a virtuoso for a specific sound, you not only want to focus on playing that kind of music, you primarily want to play for people who can appreciate it.

The twist here is that by limiting your audience, you gain, not lose—you enlarge your true fan base by playing to a more select market. True fans are the ones who not only praise what you play, they respect how you play, and they open themselves up to let the music have its intended impact.

This doesn’t mean you never play what people want to hear in order to feed your family, but if this is necessary, don’t confuse it with delivering your best value and don’t forget it is a choice you are making—you are not a victim. To practice this craft to your level of capability requires that you play you own music. This is non-negotiable. If you decide, for whatever reason, that this is not feasible, adjust your expectations about what you will accomplish in this field and keep in mind that it is your decision, so don’t allow resentment  to build up with clients or others.

This also doesn’t mean you avoid playing for audiences who show only a slight interest in your music. It is important to be accessible to listeners who are unfamiliar with your work because, through exposure, they may become raving fans. The question is, where do you spend most of your time and energy?

In my opinion, seasoned change practitioners shouldn’t expend resources talking people into listening to their music, playing for people who are clearly unimpressed, or only playing “requested” songs. Believe enough in yourself and your unequivocal brand of music to stand on that as your foundation, instead of pandering to the crowds. It is wonderful if your followers grow into crowds of true fans, but don’t play so throngs will come—play for fans and see how many there are.

When catering to the masses, you become part of the mass yourself. Competitors are everywhere and your only chance is to be the best of the commodities available. When being true to who you are, you are, by definition, distinct. There are no others who can convincingly replicate your unmistakable presence, so for the listeners who value your music, there is no competition. There may be other performers they enjoy, but when in the mood for your music, they consider alternatives as substitutions, not replacements.

What are you doing with your music?

As change practitioners, we each have our respective musical style, if you will. It is a composition that blends what we do (our concepts and techniques) with who we are. Both are important, but it is our distinctive character and presence that has us occupy space that can be claimed by no other.

Here is the inquiry I want to raise with this blog series: What are you doing with your music? Are you placing a higher priority on being a common denominator so you can secure enough affirmation from clients and prospective clients to be allowed to perform your professional role? Or, are you bringing forth your true nature and boldly expressing your authentic presence so potential clients can easily determine if they resonate with who you are. It is the second of these paths I hope you will consider. I believe it is in your best interests and those of our clients to bring your best game to the table…and that requires that all of who you really are must show up.      

Of course, you have to be a good musician for all this to work, but remember, the intended readership for this blog is seasoned change practitioners—professionals already skilled in their chosen implementation methodology who are seeking mastery in their craft. Assuming this is an accurate description of you, the critical issue becomes ensuring you are performing in front of the right patrons.

My hope for you is that your intended audience isn’t just anyone or everyone, but that it is a particular constituency made of clients who love to listen to the change implementation music you are passionate about playing. Even though this “market” is smaller than all the potential clients out there who might pay some attention to your music, this is home for you. This is your fan base and you should remain loyal to it by maintaining the integrity of who you are. That’s what they resonate with and what you owe to yourself and to them.

The finest music you’ll ever play surfaces in front of appreciative audiences. To bring out your best and to deliver the greatest value to your clients, your job is fourfold:

  • Know who you are and what change-related music truly comes from your heart.
  • Play that music with all the authenticity and passion you feel and broadcast your frequency as strongly as you can.
  • Recognize that your ability to play the music as well as you do is a gift and strive to share it with people who resonate with its significance. (Others may be listening, but play for your fans.)
  • Don’t compromise your musical talent in order to gain a larger audience or to please certain listeners in powerful positions. Be who you are and build your change facilitation practice around that.

Don’t measure yourself by the number of people listening to your music—measure yourself by how many are touched by it…compelled in some way. Clients won’t open themselves to the vulnerability required for them to be genuinely impacted by your efforts unless you are playing unabashedly from your soul.

I realize this poses some significant challenges for some of you, but bear in mind that we’re all in the same boat. As change practitioners, we pay for either our victimization or our sovereignty. Either way, the invoice is expensive, so make a decision and get on with it.

For those who choose sovereignty, the work to be done is comprised of three steps:

  • First, deeply explore your character so you can understand and accept who you are.
  • Next, embrace the presence you broadcast as a natural reflection of your core and an expression of your unique gifts. 
  • Finally, seek out clients who value your character/presence package instead of trying to artificially mold yourself to fit all prospects who might come your way.


Character and presence separate change technicians who merely submit deliverables and meet timelines from those masterful practitioners who provide valuable insight and wisdom to their clients. We all use some kind of approach or framework to support our work, but our character and presence allow us to leverage these enablers for optimum client impact. Clients need to engage both their heads and hearts before they open themselves to meaningful advisory relationships. Well-constructed methodologies can impress a client’s intellect, but it takes a strong character and a trusting presence to speak to someone’s heart.

Your true nature is synonymous with Who We Are and it has an epicenter called your character, which is conveyed to clients through the presence you cast. It is by way of your inherent character and the presence you emit that you are able to invoke the kind of impact you strive for with those you serve. To feel fulfilled professionally and provide the best possible value to clients, find your voice and perform without reservation in front of the right audience.

 Go to the beginning of the series.

Next series: Cultivating Character


Posted on: January 15, 2013 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Can We Nurture Presence?


So far in this series, I’ve described the two elements of who we are—character and presence. In this post, I’ll describe how we can enrich and deepen our presence by evolving our character.

Change practitioners utilize various concepts and techniques, but, more than anything, it is our presence that informs and mobilizes clients. As powerful as this means of influence is, however, it is usually applied without much conscious intent on our part. I hope that we are mindful of what we say and attentive to what we do, but when it comes to our presence (as it is described in this series), few practitioners make a deliberate effort to cultivate[1] a desired impact.

The Presence Disconnect

Many practitioners are unfamiliar with the presence bubble that forms around them because they are basically unacquainted with their true nature. They haven’t pursued who they really are at the level of character I’ve described in this series, so they have little appreciation for the connection between character and presence. As a result, the affect their presence has on client interactions remains a mystery to them.

While they may have a degree in psychology, organizational development, or change management; be able to recite their Myers-Briggs scores; or know their preferred communications style, most change agents haven’t deeply delved into their character. I’m referring to a profound journey into their soul…exploring not just what they do but who they are.

As a result, the majority of practitioners go about their work not only disconnected from their inherent character but also unaware of the impact their presence has on clients. Or, if they do have a sense that presence is a factor in their effectiveness, they don’t see its connection to their character. They may want to have a more positive impact in client relationships, but they think they can accomplish this by directly modifying their presence.

This view lends itself to endeavors like developing stronger interpersonal skills, or trying to manage their physical image differently rather than probing into the deeper space where character resides. There isn’t anything wrong with developmental activities in these areas but that’s not where the high leverage is. When change agents focus on their exterior in lieu of their interior, it is confirmation they haven’t yet realized that, although presence is the interface with clients, it is but an echo of where attention should be focused—on character.

Here are a few examples of how not to pursue presence.

“I’ll try to be more present” just doesn’t work

Since most practitioners haven’t explored their true nature or its relationship to presence, any consideration about a more effective impact with clients is ill-fated from the beginning. They want to enhance their presence bubble but think they can do so directly. They fail to see that only a reset in character would result in a meaningful shift in presence. They mistakenly think their course of action is to decide what presence they want, match that against the presence they currently project, and add or subtract what is required to achieve the hoped-for result.

The best that can be hoped for when taking such an approach is short-term and/or superficial change. Unfortunately, this is not widely understood among our professional community, so many change agents, eager to strengthen client influence, point their attention in the wrong direction.

Since presence is a reflection of our character, not actually who we are, attempting to adjust it is like trying to change the features on someone’s face by altering his or her image on a TV monitor. No amount of modification of the screen’s likeness will have any meaningful bearing on the person’s actual appearance. It is what it is.

Presence is what impacts clients, but that’s not where we should aim our aspirations. The focus should be on the source of presence’s reflection—our character—but not in the sense that normal, left-brain logic would suggest. This isn’t about shifting our internal character to meet our external needs; it’s about embracing our true nature and the presence it broadcasts so we can better attract the clients who will value us for who we really are.

Personality does not equal presence.

Even when there is sensitivity to the impact one’s presence is having on client interactions, gauging that impact is commonly misread. How could it be otherwise? When the relationship between character and presence is not fully understood, there is no basis on which to form an accurate opinion about what is being conveyed.

Practitioners can lose a sense of their own impact when they confuse presence (which is a reflection of character…a state of being) with personality (which is a reflection of thoughts and feelings…a state of mind). Presence is not about personality traits, it’s about the nature of our being. Psychology deals with what we do; ontology is about who we are. Both are useful lenses through which to view human existence, but it requires an ontological perspective to grasp what character is conveying through presence.

Additionally, there is the issue of full engagement. To accomplish optimum impact with clients, a practitioner must fully express his or her character—not just the parts that will be well received—while holding back the edgier, more unique facets. It requires coming forward with all you’ve got that could be helpful to your client, whether that is applauded by the client or not.

We can’t tell what the client is experiencing.

Much of the time, change agent views on how their presence affects clients are significantly off the mark. If we are unprepared to read our own presence accurately, how could we possibly interpret correctly how someone else responds to it?

One of the characteristics of successful change facilitators is their capacity to know what they can and can’t affect. As a result, they don’t waste time and effort on things beyond their ability to influence. How clients really respond to practitioners involves so many variables (including the client’s own character and presence) that second guessing what’s really going on inside them is all but futile. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be attentive to how we are perceived by clients; it means we should see our own judgments on this matter as highly suspect.

We can’t make clients like us.

Here is where we come face-to-face with the truth—all that matters is the presence that reflects our true character and the impact it has on clients.

Earlier, I said that our presence is what it is because it’s a reflection of our character. Well, clients experience us in the same way. They, too, are pre-conditioned by their character to respond in certain ways based on who they are. We can think of it as chemistry, destiny, fate, how the stars line up, or whatever context works for us, but the reality is that some people positively resonate with our presence and some don’t.

The challenge we face isn’t how to mold our character or presence so it will be well received by all clients. Instead, it is to locate clients who are instinctively drawn to us and can be influenced by who we really are. In this sense, the process of securing new projects to work on should be less about selling ourselves (i.e., How can we project a presence that is acceptable to the client?) and more about identifying prospects that are good matches for us. For these potential clients, the presence we naturally cast is the presence with which they will likely resonate.

If we are trying to facilitate change with clients who don’t value the core of who we are, they will be disappointed and we will be miserable. It is one thing to find ourselves in a situation like this occasionally; it is a deeper problem if we spend long periods in such environments. It’s a completely different level of pathology if this describes someone’s career as a change practitioner. We can make a living, but we can’t practice this craft (as described in earlier posts) by serving clients who expect us to be the expert they want instead of the professional we are.

I know some of you are saying, “I don’t have a choice. I have to work with whomever I’m assigned to (or whoever will hire you if you are an external consultant).” If your “job” is to be a change agent, you may be right, but if you are a change professional seeking mastery in this field (the intended audience for this blog), it is imperative that you carefully choose the clients you work with.

This means there will be times you decline situations because they don’t meet your criteria for success. Keep in mind that you are never trapped…you may incur a higher price than you want to pay but you can always avoid or exit client situations where your character and presence aren’t flourishing (see my series on victimization).

We Can Only Nurture Presence by Evolving Our Character 

Enriching presence is not as straightforward as it might appear. It can only be refined and deepened indirectly, through the exploration of character.

  • Change agents can “work on” things such as physical image or interpersonal skills, but not the presence they emit.
    • Presence is a natural outcome of our character…not who we are, but a “reflection” of who we are. As such, we can’t develop it directly. We can ensure it fully expresses our character, but we can’t authentically alter our presence to reflect something inconsistent with our character (at least, not for long).
    • The presence we unfold in client relationships emulates our true nature, but it is not the fullness of who we are, so if we want to nurture our presence, we must evolve our character. 
  • Think of it as Character > Presence > Impact.
    • Character is like clay in the shape of our inner nature.
    • Presence is a reflection of that shape in a mirror.
    • Impact is the positive or negative experience clients have when exposed to the mirror’s representation.

    If we want a more positive impact with clients, we must work the clay instead of reaching for the mirror. 

  • “Working” our character clay doesn’t involve carving or molding in the way these terms are normally applied to sculpting. In fact, it is just the opposite.
    • This isn’t about imposing a design on our character, it is about liberating the inherent blueprint of who we are…uncovering what has been minimized or neutralized, and releasing the uniqueness that is already there.
    • The task is to recognize, align with, and leverage the most positive impact possible from our character, not try to develop one that suits us…much less our clients.

We can deny, avoid, cover up, or attempt to “modify” who we really are all we want, but ultimately, our essence will prevail. We will serve ourselves and our clients much better if, instead of trying to forbid or negate parts of our character, we come to terms with what we have to work with. It is by accepting and cherishing who we are that we exploit our gifts and route our challenges in positive ways. It is only through embracing and positively leveraging the innate character we have to work with that our presence can mature enough to have the impact with clients we aspire to.

Strengthening presence by way of fostering character may appear to be an indirect path, but it is the only course possible. Trying to enhance an elusive reflection is pointless. Our character, however, is the core of who we are and, therefore, substantive and accessible if we are willing to dive deep into self-exploration.

Examining further the linkage between character and presence might shed light on why the indirect approach to nurturing presence is the best and only way to proceed. In my final post, I’ll talk about how discovering your “voice” can help match your character and presence to the needs of your clients.

Go to the beginning of the series.

[1] By “cultivate,” I don’t mean inauthentic manipulation to project something different than who the practitioner really is. Instead, I’m referring to   practitioners intentionally strengthening their most important asset—presence.


Posted on: January 08, 2013 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Does Our Presence Reflect Our Character?

In this series, I’m talking about character and presence—the who we are that combines with what we do to make us complete change practitioners.

As I stated earlier in this series, aspects of our character are deeply embedded in who we are and aren’t directly accessible to clients. What they experience is our presence. Although character is intensely rooted and durable, its reflection—presence—is not so unwavering. It is, in fact, very dynamic as it responds to diverse client conditions. The same aspect of a person’s internal character might be revealed to the external world in various ways at different times.

Here are some examples of presence reflecting character.[1]


As change practitioners, we fulfill an important function for our clients, but we are no more than their guides for the journey. We can compare our job to the role that Sherpa Tenzing Norgay played for Sir Edmund Hillary in his climb of Mount Everest. We are essential to our clients’ success, but only as a footnote to their entry in history. We live or die on the mountain together, but we must never forget that we are the ones in service to them.

Listed below are two related but different ways we can reflect a humble presence in our work.

Acting as guides, not directors

Most people have, to some extent, a talent for finding the correct path and making the necessary course corrections to get where they need to be. What a person does with this ability is optional, but we are all wired with some capacity for reading life’s road maps. As change facilitators, we help clients pull themselves out of the confusion and dysfunction that tends, over the years, to grow and cover up this endowed inner compass.

It is not our role to impose what we think is best for clients. Our job is to travel with them on their transformative paths and help them make informed decisions about the change-related choices they face. We should be firm in our convictions and express them freely, but we should never lose sight of who is the influencer and who is the decision-maker.

Projecting a constructive presence can help clients get in touch with their own sense of direction and self-determination instead of feeling victimized by their circumstances, as is so common during change. When this happens, they begin to believe in their own ability to chart a course and navigate their lives. Our greatest impact is when we help people 1) find or regain their sense of sovereignty, and 2) realize they can influence their destiny. The path of that influence is up to them.

Working from the shadows

It’s not when we’re on stage, in the spotlight, or holding a person or group in our grip as we talk that we have our greatest impact. We are at our influential best when we work from the shadows, when no one but possibly a professional colleague knows the moves just made or the ground just covered. This is when we are most likely to earn our fees/salary.

Presence is not the same thing as charisma…it is more about being than doing. Even practitioners who have rather reserved personalities or are not particularly verbal about their convictions can emit a powerful presence. In fact, one of the distinguishing features of this kind of influence is that it doesn’t require any particular rhetoric or activity.

The effect presence has on clients has to do with coming into contact with someone deeply centered in his or her own truth. Being and doing are both essential to achieving optimum influence, but if we had to choose between them, being with is more powerful than doing for. In fact, the less we’re able to be with clients, the more we try to compensate by relying on what we can do for them.

Valuing the client

One aspect of a practitioner’s character that can have the most impact is his or her deep interest in and caring for clients. For example, nothing conveys honor and respect more than uncompromised listening. It calls for attending to, connecting with, and genuinely valuing who we are in service to. If we hope to be influential with our clients, we must inform our communications with the vitality that comes from truly hearing what they have to convey.

Here are two more illustrations of ways we can reflect how we value clients.

Paying attention

Major turning points in life often arrive as small signals at first. This is why it is so important to pay as much attention to the minor details of what is happening with clients as we do to the more obvious elements.

Also central to our effectiveness is recognizing that the background white space is as important as the more noticeable issues and actions that capture most people’s attention. We attend to what’s between and underneath words—the unsaid, the unseen, the unintended, the unthought, etc.

Sometimes our work deals with dynamics that are invisible to the people involved, such as a group’s energy flow and momentum.  We respect these underlying forces and are just as comfortable working with them as we are the tangible aspects of change.

Staying emotionally connected

We can’t stop caring about clients when they make choices we would not make or we think are not in their own best interest. We should always be honest about our reactions to their decisions and actions, but it is critical that they know we’re still backing them, even when we don’t agree with what they’ve said or done.

In fact, when we believe a client’s position to be particularly ineffective or counter-productive, that is precisely the time to show our greatest support. Of course, we’ll be frank and straightforward about the risk they run if they continue on their current course and we’ll offer alternatives for them to consider. What isn’t helpful, however, is to pull away emotionally if they decide not to heed our guidance. If we’re right, they’re soon going to need a strong ally, so it’s critical to stay close and remain accessible. If we’re wrong, thank goodness they listened to their own instincts instead of us.

Showing acceptance

There are situations where providing the proper guidance and truly valuing clients aren’t enough to stem the tide that impedes their progress. Regardless of our best efforts, sometimes they are determined to pursue a path contrary to what we have advocated for them. When this happens, acceptance of their decision becomes an important part of what we have to offer.

Perhaps a metaphor could be helpful here—that of a trusted long-time friend. This is someone who understands you and your situation and knows your history, goals, and limitations. A true friend is sometimes the only one who can help you see what you would rather not contend with, to face things as they are (not as you wish they were), and to discern what things can and cannot be changed. That same person, however, may not be able to penetrate your fears and defenses in another situation; all his or her insight falls on deaf ears. Regardless of your readiness to absorb the council being offered, a friend is there for you, even when you make decisions or take actions that are not in your best interest.

While we are not in service to clients to be their friends, there are aspects of caring as a true friend would that are important to our role. One of them is acceptance.

Below, I’ve listed three different ways we can reflect acceptance to our clients.

Embracing what is

The combination of using sound implementation methodologies and the character and presence we bring to client situations allows us to facilitate many change efforts that would otherwise founder without our involvement. Yet, we are instrumental only in situations that were meant to succeed. If the change is to be successful, we are a key element in its occurrence, but none of our man-made processes and tools can outsmart or undo what is intended to unfold. If an initiative is not to be realized, no amount of our skill or expertise will alter that outcome.

We are at our best when we balance our directness and tenacity with our willingness to accept—even embrace—whatever outcomes result from our efforts. This doesn’t mean we like or endorse everything that unfolds; it means we avoid playing games with ourselves and our clients about the realities before us. 

Our job is to stay true to who we are and adhere to impeccable delivery of our chosen implementation methodology. As long as we do this, we can trust that whatever happens is in everyone’s best interest, even when the results are far different—and may appear to be less beneficial—than we had anticipated.

Being non-judgmental

We can’t change people; they either change themselves, or things stay pretty much the same. When we replace our desire to help clients make informed decisions, with judging them at a personal level for what they “should or should not” be doing, our effectiveness usually drops dramatically.

The paradox is that sometimes it’s the things we accept that have the best chance of one day being changed. Most direct efforts to force (pressure) someone to change result in either a superficial shift or some form of overt or covert resistance. What we struggle against with clients is likely to persist. What we recognize as theirs to keep or discard as they see fit has at least some likelihood of being altered.

To accept something about a client without being personally judgmental is not the same as agreeing with it. As used here, acceptance means to embrace something as a reality (even if an unwanted one) and incorporate it into the decision-making process regarding what to do next.

There is an important distinction between discernment and judgment. To discern is to recognize the difference between a standard and what is being observed without labeling the difference as an indication the person is “good” or “bad.” It’s important that we share our observation if it appears clients are not operating in their own best interests (i.e., their current behavior will not give them what they say they want). However, to say or imply they are somehow “bad” or what they are doing is inherently wrong is not only inappropriate, it’s generally ineffective.[2]

Finding what’s already there

In many cases, clients already know (although it may be at an unconscious level) what they’re searching for when they ask us to guide them through an implementation. Because they want to avoid some uncomfortable realities or because they lack confidence in the specific steps to take, they may convince themselves that they don’t know how to proceed. Much of the time, however, they have at least an intuitive sense about what must be done. The key question typically isn’t, “When will they realize what they should do?” it’s “When will they act on what they know but are not willing to address?” As a result, our work often involves challenging clients to face and pursue that which they know is the correct path.

Although clients test our skills and patience with the various ways they hinder their own progress, it is important to remain confident in their unconscious competence, latent personal resilience, and hidden organizational nimbleness that lies just beneath the surface. We believe we have much to offer, but we can’t give clients anything they don’t already possess to some degree. Part of our job is to help them realize that what they want from us is already within their grasp.

The relationship between character and presence

Presence is the functional link between our interior character and the external impact we want to have with clients. Like its character counterpart, the constitution of presence determines the effect it has.

  • A weak (diffused) character conveys a correspondingly anemic presence and has little effect on clients. A strong (purposeful, focused) character expresses a persuasive presence that tends to get traction with clients.
  • If “supportive” or “dysfunctional” are added as descriptors, the results can be anything from a presence that is convincingly influential (in either positive or negative ways) to a benign presence that is neither constructive nor harmful.

Presence can’t be manufactured but it can be “attended to.” We can be mindful of the presence we transmit to others and nurture its growth (the topic of the next post).


Go to the beginning of the series.


[1] A note of clarification: I’ve offered three possible aspects of a practitioner’s character—humility, valuing the client, and showing acceptance—each coupled with conceivable ways presence might reflect that aspect. The matches are intended to be purely illustrative in nature. I’m not implying that the character aspects listed are the ones a practitioner should possess or that the presence samples are the only ones that are “correct.” You may or may not resonate with these specific matches. I hope the examples I’ve selected are thought-provoking but my agenda here is to demonstrate the relationship between character and presence…how the two interrelate. I’m not suggesting that these particular pairings should be part of anyone’s character/presence package.    

[2] This is not to say that bad people or intrinsically wrong actions don’t exist, or that, when faced with such circumstances, we shouldn’t take a definitive stand about calling it out. However, these situations are rare in the settings where we practice our craft and usually this will not be the case.


Posted on: January 03, 2013 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Role of Presence in Our Work

In the last post, I distinguished what we do (methodologies) from who we are (character and presence) and then focused on character and the role it plays in our work. In this post, I’ll concentrate on presence—the second element of who we are.

A strong character, comprised of mostly positive components, is necessary, but insufficient, for the kind of client impact to which most of us aspire. Character is your true nature, your essence; as such, it’s an internal phenomenon, not directly accessible to anyone but yourself. Your interior character needs a “voice” to be expressed to the exterior world. Think of the presence you extend to others as that voice.

When people describe someone as having a strong personal presence, they usually mean that being in his or her company, even in large crowds, generates a sense of influence. That is, they pay attention to what the person has to say. As I’m using the term here, a persuasive presence doesn’t lead other people to abandon their free will or abdicate making their own decisions. Instead, it helps them listen to and consider what is suggested or promoted.

What is “practitioner presence?”

  • Presence is like a force field you project when you express aspects of who you are in change-related circumstances. This is the temperament you emit in client settings that serves as the conduit through which your character emanates. It’s like an intangible transmission that flows underneath and around your words and actions.

    Beyond concepts and techniques, it’s the other key pillar in your intervention repertoire. Whenever you attempt to influence a client, you draw not only on what you say and do, but also on this reflection of who you are.

  • Presence is like a subliminal identity signature embedded within your client interactions. The presence practitioners radiate may fall into broad categories such as peaceful, hectic, accommodating, demanding, etc. but each person has his or her own unique frequency that, when released, creates an ambient bubble like no other. Whether the exchanges are face-to-face, by phone, or by text, client interactions inside a change agent’s “influence bubble” are distinctive to only him or her.

    This influence bubble is like a sphere of cachet created by the expression of the change agent’s character. Whether the bubble engenders a high or low regard for the practitioner by clients directly affects the amount of influence the practitioner can exert.

    Usually, this bubble is created without our awareness. We don’t think about sending out these instinctive, involuntary presence messages but, in truth, most of what we say or do has a particular tone about it that is as singular as our personal retina scan. The fact that we are mostly blind to how or when we beacon these signals doesn’t lessen their impact. (Neither ignorance nor innocence provides protection from the consequences.)

    The problem is that all the verbal and non-verbal communications inside this bubble are influenced by our presence and yet we pay little, if any, attention to its impact. We think more about our weight, hairstyle, and attire than we do our presence, even though this influence zone we generate has the greatest bearing on whether or not we create value for our clients.

  • A positive presence impacts clients in three ways:
    • Practitioners with a powerful, constructive presence are usually seen as having deep and passionate convictions. Politicians, movie stars, and other famous people are often described as “charismatic,” but this is very different from having presence. Real presence is not a function of superficial façades or manipulated images; it’s an expression of one’s authentic being.
    • Presence brings with it an assuredness noticed by others. Clients sense when change facilitators believe they can and will carry out their mission, no matter what the difficulties.
    • Radiating a convincing presence can have the effect of penetrating the unconscious defenses clients typically use to guard themselves against new thinking, challenges that appear beyond their reach, unfamiliar perspectives, or interpretations other than their own.

    The combination of definitiveness, self-confidence, and the ability to help people open themselves to new possibilities can have a compelling effect on clients and what they see as achievable.

What are the implications of presence on a practitioner’s influence?

  • When change agents transmit a clear, persuasive presence, their self-assurance and conviction often become contagious.

    It’s not necessarily the content of the practitioner’s convictions that clients attach themselves to, because they may or may not agree with everything being suggested. What they are drawn to is the excitement, intrigue, and enthusiasm that can come from being around someone living their own truth.

    Even if some of the specific guidance offered doesn’t seem feasible, clients are attracted to working with people who have enough commitment to what they are advocating to incorporate it into how they actually operate themselves. It is both provoking and inspiring to work closely with a trusted advisor who is an exemplar of what he or she suggests for others. 

  • Your presence will either enhance or diminish the concepts and techniques you use, but, one way or another, it is always a factor in your effectiveness. For example, without saying or doing anything obvious, your presence signals if you are more committed to client success than invested in being pleasant and amenable. Alternatively, it could reveal that you are conflict-averse and uncomfortable about being direct and explicit on tough issues.
  • There are two sides to presence:
    • Although a practitioner’s character is relatively stable, due to the shifting variables faced on an ongoing basis, his or her presence will fluctuate in response to client circumstances.
    • At the same time, because presence is a reflection of the practitioner’s true nature, there will be a continuity to how it is projected.

    This means, from situation to situation, a change agent’s presence will likely vary. However, over time, the consistency of his or her character will eventually be revealed.

In my next post, I’ll describe some of the ways we express our character through presence.

Go to the beginning of the series.

I am taking a break from posting next week. Look for part 3 of the Character and Presence series on January 2. Enjoy your holidays.

Posted on: December 18, 2012 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Importance of Character and Presence

“Character—a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means.”   
                                                                                                                   —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.”    —Marianne Williamson

Two aspects of our work contribute to our success as change professionals:

  • What We Do—the concepts, frameworks, processes, and techniques used when engaged with clients
  • Who We Are—our true nature…the substance of what we have to offer as human beings

If you are part of the intended audience for this blog, you have already addressed the “what we do” part—you’ve selected a sound implementation approach and become skilled in its application. Without question, proficiency in a dependable methodology is a critical portion of the benefit we offer clients. However, there is a stream of influence much more powerful than any of the terms we use, or procedures we deploy.

Underneath what we do is who we are, and it is here where our optimum impact resides. Of all the things we draw on to create leverage for our clients, our true nature is our greatest asset. Only when we can stay centered on this and see it as core to the value we provide, will we be able to live up to our full potential and help others do the same.

The purpose of this series is to explore this who we are side of being a facilitator of organizational change. In this and the next four posts, I’ll present my views on character and presence—the foundational elements of who we are. As always, I invite you to share your perspectives on this matter.

The Role of Character in Our Work

Many of the change practitioners I’ve had contact with over the years had only a vague notion that there was more to influencing clients than what they know and what they do. Most would probably concede that their basic nature has some bearing on their client effectiveness, but they would be hard-pressed to articulate what that effect is.

As a change practitioner, one aspect of who you really are—your true nature—is the “character” you bring into client relationships. Character is grounded in the depths of personal experience…it is etched in our souls from living life. The debate rages as to what parts come from genetic, environmental, experiential, or spiritual influences, but one thing is certain—our character is always in play, regardless of the conditions we face.

H2O can take the form of water, vapor, or ice crystals. It can flow in a river, fall as rain, or run from our pores when we sweat without ever changing its basic makeup. Our character also endures through whatever circumstances we encounter. Before we were organizational change facilitators, and long after we cease to serve in this role, we were and will be who we are.

Our character is like a true nature “set point.” Physiologically, our bodies have certain ranges for which they are calibrated and, generally speaking, we stay within those limits. For example, one explanation for the weight gain most people experience after dieting is that the body is programmed to maintain something close to a person’s set point of the bulk he or she carries. When people drop below their body's natural set point, their metabolism slows in order to conserve energy. Conversely, when they gain too much weight, their bodies rebel by increasing their metabolisms, which increases the body's temperature to consume the excess calories. It is possible for set points to be recalibrated, but a major shift is required for this to happen.

Our character operates in a similar manner; maintaining its inherent essence is generally its default position, regardless of external conditions. We can be oblivious to it or mindfully aware of it; we can disown it or celebrate it; we can sink under its negative implications or soar on its advantages; we can wish we were someone else or leverage what we have. The one option we don’t have is to be other than who we are.

As I’m using the term, our character is comprised of the aggregate features securely planted in our personal landscape. Some attributes are blatant, others subtle. Some edges are rough, others smooth. Some qualities cycle in and out of a prominent role in our lives, while others remain a permanent dominant force. Regardless of what happens at any particular point in time, our basic character is always our companion.

With all the similarities among people who fall into the same demographic categories (e.g., female, over 40, married, mother of two children, professional, medium income, home owner, two cars, churchgoer, Republican, jogger, shops at Target, type-A hard-charging personality), character stands out as one of the most reliable differentiators. Our true nature is so distinctive that, even with all the other commonalities we might share with others, we can still legitimately claim our individuality because of our unmistakable character.

Character is pivotal to the impact change facilitators have with clients. It is who we are, not what is in our bag of intervention tricks, which ultimately determines whether we generate meaningful benefits for clients. The following perspectives help explain why character is central to our role:

  • The term, character, is impartial and can be applied to either commendable or undesirable distinctions. A change agent’s character is comprised of many components. Some promote favorable implementation outcomes; others may not.

    • Positive components might include things such as devotion to serving others, authenticity, commitment to honesty, and passion for the work itself. Many practitioners have a spiritual or philosophical dimension to their character.
    • There can also be a negative side to a person’s character that reflects such things as self-centeredness, manipulation, insecurity, lack of compassion, etc.

    Whether it advances or detracts from clients realizing their change aspirations, character is the greatest determinant of the value clients will receive from our work.

  • A positively oriented character brings life to our capabilities.
    • It operates as a filter that is applied to what we know and how we act before anything reaches clients. By screening everything through our character, we infuse our unique state of being into the work.
    • It is far more than the change-related knowledge and competencies we’ve acquired—it influences client decisions, guides their actions, and ultimately facilitates their success.
    • It functions as a catalytic agent. Without it, the alchemy between what we do and who we are can’t be activated.
  • The knowledge and skills we use in our work are neutral. They possess no inherent positive or negative implications. We can employ the same techniques to connect with, or distance ourselves from, a client. The same concepts can generate clarity and insight or add to existing confusion. The spin our character puts on these otherwise agnostic tools of the trade bends their impact toward either advantageous or adverse outcomes.

    Without the influence of our character, the nomenclature and processes associated with what we do can come across as sterile, left-brained, technical fragments of the implementation process. Only when character and methodology interact synergistically can our heads and hearts merge to release the potential that is there.

  • Character distinguishes our work more than anything else, including the methodologies to which we pledge allegiance. Others can use the same concepts and techniques, but no one else can duplicate the outcomes we produce when our character interlaces with those words and actions. Character differentiates our work much more than the tools we sometimes so jealously protect. This means that, as change practitioners, the secret sauce in our profession isn’t in our heads, it’s in our hearts.

In the next post, I’ll continue the conversation by describing the role of presence as we engage our work.

Posted on: December 11, 2012 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Karate is a form of martial arts in which people who have had years and years of training can, using only their hands and feet, make some of the worst movies in the history of the world."

- Dave Barry



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