Our prehistoric ancestors shared the planet with at least three species of early humans. Over time, as modern humans spread around the world, the other three species became extinct. We became the sole survivors in the human family tree.
The key that led to our success was our ability to adapt to the changes and challenges presented in our daily life.
Change is fundamental in science, a determining factor of survivability in nature, and permeates the perpetual motion of a corporate environment. It is the one constant that can determine the survival or extinction of species, organisations and economies.
With such a strong emphasis on the importance of change, it’s any wonder that change, and in particular how to deliver positive change, has encouraged a growing trend for academic and organisational focus. So with the advantage of insights from the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC), what are three essential characteristics of a change agent?
Descriptively, a change agent is a person from inside or outside an organisation that helps transformation by focusing on organisational effectiveness, improvement, and development. Practically, a change agent can be far more complex and personal than any description if useful guidance is to achieve change.
Of utmost importance is the capacity to experience other people's emotions and see those emotions as neutral information, and not perceive their reactions necessarily as an attack on yourself.
If you're able to empathise with an individual, you can realise their anger or frustration as something that is occurring within them. A change agent with empathy would ask, ‘I wonder what is going on?’ or ‘What might be behind those emotions?’ instead of taking the anger or frustration as a personal assault on their character. It is through empathy that active change agents can start to understand the complexities of individuals and begin to make serious inroads into organisational change.
From our own experiences, we know emotions are potent.
Even the most level-headed leader knows that emotions can disrupt the way they think and respond to situations. These unconscious thoughts are referred to as 'implicit emotions'; emotions which go beyond our usual level of awareness. At a more profound level, these implicit emotions are a result of our past experiences. These experiences can define the way we see our current world. If you associate change as negative or something that could lead to loss of status, you are naturally going to lean towards resisting change.
Countless research explains that significant change is impossible without the complete support from the head of the organisation. While an individual can have a firm grasp of empathy and emotions, without robust leadership capabilities and an ability to work with and influence senior leadership teams, change on a large scale encompassing groups, divisions or entire organisations can be near impossible.
With numerous examples of change leadership failure, one of the primary factors that make a significant difference in successful change is to work with a collaboration of senior individuals rather than one dedicated change leader. What is needed is the ability and the capacity to draw on the whole experience and expertise of the top management team. Senior management at most organisations has or have a certain amount of diversity where they can draw on knowledge and expertise (or experience) in emotional, political and cultural spheres that are vital to harvesting positive change.
The EMC programme provides business professionals with a new lens through which to see their world holistically—starting with themselves and moving outward to family and group dynamics, and life in communities and organisations. Throughout the duration of the course, participants are provided with the space in which they can safely explore implicit emotions and experiment with different identities as they pursue the role of being an emotionally intelligent, empathetic leader of change.