My colleagues and I are often asked to ‘decode’ the process of business transformation and provide the repeatable ‘formula’ for success. I guess this is understandable given that widely quoted statistic – you know the one – that 70% of all change efforts fail.

In a way, this interest in our work is very humbling. In another way, it’s pretty darn intimidating. Our practices have evolved organically around our clients and our people over time, and along with it, so has our so called ‘formula’ for transformation.

One thing I do know for certain is that the role of the change agent – internal and external – is critical in any transformation process. Recently, I’ve been asked to speak quite a bit on this topic; to effectively answer the question “What does it take to be a transformational change agent? It’s been a personally challenging and exciting journey to try and articulate my thoughts, so let me share with you what I’ve learned.


In our own practice, as well as in my observation of others, I’ve identified fifteen attributes that the best change agents appear to share.

These are classified as DOING (the specific skills and methods for creating change), SEEING (the ability to make sense of, and reshape perceptions of ‘reality’) and BEING (personal characteristics and qualities).

In my experience, one of the biggest traps for change agents is an over-whelming emphasis on ‘DOING’. This is understandable given it’s ‘the stuff’ of change, and is readily observable and actionable. It is now, however, my very strong belief that the most effective ‘DOING’ is preceded by ‘SEEING’, which, in turn, is preceded by ‘BEING’.

Below is how I have codified the key attributes of the transformational change agent under these three headings. While we have used these attributes as an internal benchmark in our company for a while, I’ve only begun speaking about them publicly very recently. The very positive response has only served to invigorate my belief in the value of this content.


DOING – the specific skills and methods for creating change

1. They create a setting for success, without needing to control the process

2. They artfully apply frameworks, models and tools

3. They provide correction to senior executives without causing resentment

4. They appeal to the heart (emotion) and then the head (logic)

5. They make a call to action


SEEING – the ability to make sense of, and reshape perceptions of ‘reality’

6. They see a different ‘normal’

7. They see the distinction between fact and truth

8. They see leaders in a sympathetic light

9. They see all interventions in a strategic context

10. They see a ‘higher self’


BEING – personal characteristics and qualities of transformational change agents

11. They are a role model first and a preacher second

12. They are optimistic; they inspire hope not fear

13. They are courageous and selfless

14. They are trusted, and leverage it

15. They are in service, not subservience


It would be disingenuous and inauthentic to claim that we have cracked the code. Even with many case studies in hand, my colleagues and I remain students and learners trying to perfect our craft and make sense of this complex and nuanced phenomenon called transformation. That said, we have learned from our client experiences, good and bad, that there are several common elements to successful transformation efforts.

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to other blogs you may like;

The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process
7 Metaphors for Leadership Transformation
Tim’s story: From ‘pants on fire’ to Earth Hour

5 thoughts on “15 Qualities Of A Transformational Change Agent

  1. Dear Peter,
    I herby acknowledge you brilliant framework: “BEING-SEEING-DOING”.
    Moreover, I propose significant emphasis on the “SEEING” for the left brainers amongst us. One may consider the attributes of SEEING to be characterized by verbs which supports a wider spectrum of sensory capabilities feeding the awareness of the OBSERVER that is “BEING”.
    These verbs can vary from seeing, looking, monitoring, listening, perceiving and especially the indefinite concept of intuitive feeling through touch, energy, light, telepathy and all the other info-exchange carriers which builds the complete consciousness of THAT who is the “BEING”
    Cheers to you, Aurbey

  2. Peter,
    In my experience, the foundation of Being is so frequently overlooked – and even dismissed – at the organizational level, and yet individual leaders understand it and accept its importance. This is just one example of the very real disconnect that often exists between what we see as important for the individual and what we see as important for the collective organization – we too easily forget the obvious fact that our organizations are made up of individuals.

    As I read your list of characteristics for Being, I found myself wondering if the change agent’s connection to something bigger than themselves is implied in your list, or missing. I have found that this sense of being part of something bigger than one’s self is an essential piece of the puzzle.


  3. What an excellent codification of your work. Thank you.

    I wonder if there’s another feature of success, worth stating explicitly, namely alignment of all three layers behind a purpose? This seems relevant to the change agent as a person as well as to their work on a particular issue. Folk often want to know who the change agent is, what they value – in essence, their "Why?".

    This personal quality seems to underlie a lot of the questions people ask of change leaders early on, seeking to establish if they share values. Has that been true of your own experience?

    • Robert I agree. Change agents, if they are to inspire, need to articulate/demonstrate their ‘why’. Simon Sinek’s model of the golden circle is powerful in articulating this.

  4. Pingback: PKM is my key to change – A personal space for sense making

Leave a Comment