4 traits of change leaders

Many large-scale change and innovation efforts fail. Failure to successfully implement a large-scale change does not fully rest on the shoulders of the employees, or on the CEO. Those with the most power to make change are the mid-level managers.

In a study of 56 randomly selected companies in the high-tech, retail, pharmaceutical, banking, automotive, insurance, energy, nonprofit and healthcare industries, the majority of efforts to adopt a large change failed, according to the Harvard Business Review. Of the 32 percent of the efforts that were successful, mid-level managers played a key role, and they weren't just managing incremental change, but leading it.

The mid-level managers who were successful leaders of change for their companies shared four characteristics, according to the Harvard Business Review.

1. They are open-minded. Change efforts often don't reach their potential or fail because the people leading them reduce themselves to pre-existing, mapped out systems such as Lean and Six Sigma, according to the report. In contrast, successful change leaders keep an open mind, value bold ideas and aren't afraid to try something new.

2. They stick to the process. While successful change leaders are not afraid to employ out-of-the-box strategies, they don't act impulsively. The creativity aspect of their approach happens in the planning stage. Once a process they establish what the change will be and how to achieve it, change leaders stick to it and inspire others to embrace it, according to the report.

3. They work across various levels of the organization. Mid-level managers leading change often establish a direct line of communication with the company's top executives, as well as with their own employees. They become masters of "top-down, bottom-up and lateral mobilization," according to the report.

4. They act quickly. People don't see a reason to change something if there is no sense of urgency associated with it. It is important to communicate to employees the significance of the change, the stakes of failure and enforce the change process with deadlines.

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