5 Habits of Leaders Who Create Change

For the first time ever, we have a younger generation that has access to as much or more information than the one before it. Older generations can no longer presume to know more or understand the experiences of those much younger than themselves. Effective leadership now requires a flatter, more transparent, collaborative approach, because the traditional top-down model of leadership no longer works. An over-fifty employer doesn't understand (or at the very least, has trouble comprehending) the perspective of employees in their twenties. Their world is an alien landscape in comparison to the manager's when she was in her twenties. With a computer in hand, a young employee can be as knowledgeable in any subject, or more so, than their leader. The traditional knowledge-bearers must now adjust, at least in the area of technology, to sharing this role with their much-younger counterparts, and this can be a difficult adaptation--one to which most adults are unaccustomed.

In the old Industrial Era, organizations were hierarchal, the supervisor 'boss' was directive in instructions and expected everyone to follow their lead. Their way was the 'right' way and any other way was 'wrong'.

With our transition to the Information Age, organizations want engagement, collaboration, innovation, inspiration, and accountability-skills that are currently expected of leaders yet aren't being taught. There is a focus on developing relationships as well as achieving goals. It may seem the culture is swiftly changing and yet most people are not. As leaders, we emulate the leadership styles we have experienced, resorting to a directive, controlling style when we feel our survival is at stake. As a professional, we may model our rapport with clients or patients on the approach of our mentors and others from whom we learned. That's why, when we experience negative emotions in certain situations, we automatically revert back to the hierarchical directive model and find ourselves saying things that later we wish we could retract.

In the Industrial Era, achieving the goal was all that mattered. Change occurred, was more deliberate, completed, evaluated and then at some point in the future a new change was presented. This gave leaders time to breathe. They knew when change occurred, they needed to focus on the goal, vision, 'what' need to be accomplished. They could develop a path, a strategy and direct everyone to follow it.

Although this approach has been around for nearly 200 years, today's leaders now realize although they thought their decisiveness communicated competence, they were, in fact, messaging that their teams were incompetent and couldn't figure out how to do it "right" themselves. When the teams wouldn't engage or the results were not achieved, these leaders would blame, judge, criticize, and even shame. But this leadership style was not producing the results they wanted either, leaving them frustrated and stuck in behavioral ruts they didn't know how to get out of. It did not support building relationships so relevant in today's world. Our society has changed. People expect to be respected, included and understood. They will engage if they feel they are listened to and valued for the job they do.

We believe change is now comprised of two very important parts. One is the goal, vision, deliverable that is still expected, which we call the 'what'. The second is the 'how' of getting there which is integral to leadership today. Leaders now need to value employees and the contributions they make to an organization. Employees expect and in some cases demand to be treated with respect, to have their value acknowledged. They no longer respond to directives, being told what to do. If they are to be engaged, create innovation and be held accountable, they want to be understood, respected and valued. This 'how' has added a layer to change that leaders did not have to consider in the past. We believe this is a critical piece in the challenges experienced by leaders, who are now part of any change initiative. This 'how' is the underlying piece required to support change, particularly change that will lead to transformation, so often expected by organizations. The 'how' focuses on relationships which are now fundamental to success, a critical component to successful leadership in the 21st century.


1. Listen: Change makers listen with a focus on others, not themselves! This means they are present and actively listen to ABSORB giving their full attention to the speaker, curious to understand what is being said, not listening to speak and tell others what to do and how to do it.

2. Be Open: Choose to be open when listening. Instead of judging what is being said (narrowing opportunities and shutting down a conversation), be open to understand what the speaker is saying. Even if you don't like what you hear, there is always an opportunity to learn and look at it differently. If invested in the outcome, keep your end goal in mind as you listen, keeping an open mind while holding space for your goal.

3. Ask open, curious questions: These questions begin with 'how', 'who', 'what', 'where', 'when', 'why' and are questions that cannot be answered with yes or no. This provides an opportunity for expansion of thought, discovery, and understanding of diverse opinions. Open, curious questions ensure we are free from judging and stay in a place of ambiguity where we are solely interested in understanding the perspective of others. This is essential for change.

4. Test assumptions: When someone says something, we naturally begin to understand what was said from our perspective, not theirs. They are speaking their truth and we are hearing their thoughts from a place of our truth. These may not be the same and can lead to missed opportunities and conflict. Again, ask open, curious questions to test these assumptions to truly understand what is being said.

5. Selective Telling: People commit to change that they are part of. Telling people what to do messages they don't know and they are not part of the solution. To support change, be curious with others as everyone explores options, ideas, and solutions. Then when the times comes to move forward, as the leader you determine the course of action and share with everyone by telling them what the plan is. Telling also works in emergencies where safety is critical, when knowledge is being transferred and professional expertise provided.

Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Taberner Siggins are a mother/daughter communication consulting team with a focus on curiosity and founders of the Institute Of Curiosity. Their book The Power Of Curiosity: How To Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding (Morgan James 2015) gives parents or leaders (or both) the skills and the method to stay curious and connected in all conversations, even in conflict.