Leading a change - do you change first or last? - Michelle Gibbings

Leading a change - do you change first or last?Change leadership is no longer an optional skill for leaders. Instead, it’s seen as a core competency.

When you think about leading a change and being an effective change leader, what skills and competencies spring to mind?

Is it for example:

  • Building strong stakeholder relationships
  • Being able to coach your team members
  • Thinking strategically and laterally
  • Being able to plan and execute

I’m sure you can add others.

One of the competencies that is missing from that list is self-awareness. And by that I mean what’s your level of awareness about what might need to change in you, for you to effectively lead the change or transformation.

For most people, myself included, it’s easy to recognise what we think needs to change in other people, and much harder to identify it in ourselves.

And yet, if we are consciously leading change, we need to be prepared to change ourselves – our mindset, leadership style and management behaviour.

Being a change leader can be daunting. There’s a myriad of challenges – complexity, ambiguity and often, conflicting priorities – to name a few.

Success requires an ability to work across boundaries, be agile, authentic, resilient and open to new ideas and learnings.

And you need to embrace the notion that successful organisational transformation, requires not just change for team members, but personal change for yourself.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey are Harvard academics, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail. Through their research they found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.

As they state in their book, Immunity to Change “…it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)…”

Understanding what personal changes you may need to make through the change process goes beyond pinpointing new technical skills. It’s about delving into the meaning that drives your behaviour, and the mental models you are applying to the decisions you are making.

To do this, start thinking about your ‘leadership moments of truth’.

That is, those actions that you take (often unconsciously), which define how your leadership style is viewed by colleagues, peers and team members.

It includes, for example:

  • What you pay attention to
  • What you prioritise
  • How you react to issues and when things go wrong
  • What you say, and what you do and don’t do
  • How you allocate resources and rewards
  • How you recruit and promote

Look for red flags. For example, are there times when your behaviour is inconsistent?   Are you playing favourites with people in your team? Are you living up to commitments? Are your behaviours authentic and values driven?

From there you can start to identify the triggers for your behaviours. Those triggers may be situational or people related. Once you’ve identified the trigger it becomes easier to then build a plan to address.

This isn’t easy, as we can be blind to our own behaviour. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. A trusted friend or advisor, a mentor or business coach may be very helpful in helping you reflect on your behaviour and to create the necessary insight that is a pre-cursor to personal change.

Next time you’re asked to lead a change, start with thinking about what you may need to change in yourself. The results may open a whole new chapter for you!


Change happens.  Make it work for you.


Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’.  For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.