Are You a “Change Agent”?
Originally published on Original Thinking by Dennis Stevenson July 22, 2010
This morning I had breakfast with a friend who asked me “What is a Change Agent?” I’ll admit the question caught me by surprise. The bottom line is that I didn’t have a good “elevator pitch” to answer him, and I should have. A lot of “you should say…” thoughts ran through my head. But none of them were satisfying. So I’m returning to the question here in quest for redemption.
Firstly, I must say that I thing being a change agent is a noble aspiration. I assume, of course, that change is for the good, not purely destructive change. In my mind, change is akin to “making people better”. Which is something we should all strive for.
For a dictionary definition, I would say that a change agent is someone who “alters human capability or organizational systems to achieve a higher degree of output or self actualization.” Beginning with the end in mind, the goal of a change agent is obviously to make changes that stick. The result of change agent activity is to enable people to do more, or find a new and better perspective on life. Sometimes this latter idea is the foundation for future change which achieves outcomes that were previously not attainable.
Dictionary definitions are ok, I suppose. But in this case, I think it misses the essence of what it means to be a change agent. I think there is more to it than just understanding or repeating a definition. Change agent is as much about identity and character as it is any definitions. I offer the following explanations for how it feels to be a change agent.
* A change agent lives in the future, not the present. Regardless of what is going on today, a change agent has a vision of what could or should be and uses that as the governing sense of action. To a certain extent, a change agent is dissatisfied with what they see around them, in favor of a much better vision of the future. Without this future drive, the change agent can lose their way.
* A change agent is fueled by passion, and inspires passion in others, Change is hard work. It takes a lot of energy. Don’t underestimate this. I like to think about the amount of energy it takes to boil water. From 212 degree water to 212 degree steam takes a lot more energy than heating water from 211 degrees to 212 degrees. In my experience, without passion, it is very difficult indeed to muster up enough energy to assault the fortress of status quo that seems to otherwise carry the day.
* A change agent has a strong ability to self-motivate. There will be many days where everyone around does not understand and will not offer props. The change agent needs to find it within themselves to get up every day and come to work and risk being misunderstood and misappreciated, knowing that the real validation may be far in the future and may be claimed by someone else.
* A change agent must understand people. at the end of the day, change is about people. If you change everything but the people, I doubt you’ll be effective as a change agent. Change will really “stick” when people embrace it. Therefore, change is part sales, part counseling and part encouragement. It’s all about people.
As I read this post by Dennis Stevenson, I realized that at the end of the day, we are all entrusted with a very powerful lever for change – hope. With that lever, we can create remarkable change in our health, our families, our organizations and our country. But in order to do so, we need to embrace change and no longer fear it in order to be the change we want to see in the world. ~ Robyn O’Brien