Change Agent of the 21st C

How to become a pro-change leader to drive creativity and innovation


Change or Die!

In the past, they used to say: ‘Change or Stagnate!’ Now? ‘Change or Die!’

Think of those kingdoms that refused to change on time and died such as the:

  • Roman,
  • Persian,
  • Mayan, and many other empires throughout human history…


What about:

  • Kodak,
  • Xerox,
  • Nokia,
  • Blackberry,
  • Blockbuster, to name a few…


Don’t assume that these organizations and empires were arrogant and totally insensitive to change.

When you closely study their history and downfall, most of them believed they could easily outsmart and outlive the change that was coming. Some tried everything possible to stop it or, at least, delay their demise.

Unfortunately, by the time they woke up to comply with the change that was happening and decided to do something about it, it was too late. The boat had already left…

Unless we desire to ‘die’ as a person, organization, or community like many before us, we should become pro-change.

  • We should not wait until the change becomes obvious to everyone.
  • We shouldn’t react to it once it manifested itself in the flesh.
  • We should develop the right mindset and the necessary competencies to drive creativity and innovation by becoming intentional and proactive about change and crisis.
  • We should project into the future and discern an inevitable change that is coming in a few years or decades.


Why not even go ahead of the curve to bring forth a new future that gives us a competitive advantage? I like the saying: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Change and crisis are the only constant. There are severe consequences of ignoring or undermining these constants.

Change has been part of our history. It was there when everything began in this universe. It has been with us since the beginning of time. It will continue to be part of our existence…

That is why we all came to realize that “The only thing that doesn’t change is Change itself.” The only thing new or different about the change we’re experiencing these days is that it is happening so fast and without giving us any break.

We are forced to deal with so many changes happening on many fronts. Worst? Before we recover from a change that rocked us, our organization, and/or our community recently, we must brace for another change. Before we take a break and relax to recover from the blow we sustained from the recent change or crisis, here comes another one for which we haven’t prepared yet. It’s a vicious circle…

Drove to DC to facilitate a workshop on Change

You may be wondering what motivated me to write this blog. This past week I was in Washington DC. I was in the Washington Monument area last year in July. Back then, I was with a different group and in a different building but in the same vicinity. I facilitated a two-day, hands-on, and very intense workshop that was designed to equip participants to speak so that others listen.

This time, I drove for an hour to facilitate a workshop on Change Management (See some of the images I took while in DC).

By the way, a little history here. When I came to the US in 2005, I first arrived and stayed for two months in DC. There are a lot of Ethiopians in DC. I felt like I was in Addis Ababa 😊 Everywhere I was going, there were Ethiopian restaurants and fellow Ethiopians… I wasn’t homesick…

Though I have had good memories in DC and enjoy meeting my fellow countrymen and women whenever I visit the capital city of the US, I hate to go there often. The reason? Parking! I walked over 10 minutes holding a heavy bag on a very hot day to get to the conference room. Luckily, since I came a little early, I had a chance to cool down and regain my composure before I stepped on the stage…

A few of the participants were juniors. Some were middle leaders while many of them were senior leaders. We talked about the changes that are going on in their organization and shared with them some change models and approaches on how to overcome change resistance.

One of the top sought-after skills in the 21st C

Many surveys revealed that change management is one of the top 10 skills necessary to get into the door and succeed in today’s workplace. No wonder why smart organizations- before they hire and promote, look for one’s ability to lead change.

Whether one is a leader or a team member, one’s success in the 21st C is dependent on their:

  • Attitude towards change,
  • Ability to get along while passing through change, and
  • Leadership to initiate, implement, and sustain change.


These traits allow them to stand out among the crowd. They give them a competitive edge. Which of these do you and your people already have? Which one (s) may be missing or need to be improved?

From 1 to 10, 1 being I’m against change all the time and hate change; and 10 being I’m a change agent and excel in leading change like a pro, how do you rate yourself?

Wherever you may be right now on the spectrum of change management, what is your (your team’s) plan to go to the next level? This is my hope that you may find a couple of insights from this commentary that may help you advance on the continuum a little further…

You don’t need to love all changes, just be pro-change

This century is plagued by change more than any other century in human history. Only those individuals, organizations, and communities that are pro-change- those that are comfortable and friendly with change- tend to survive, outlast, and even thrive in the aftermath of change and crisis.

You may ask: ‘Wait, are there really people who love change?’ There is no one individual or organization or community that loves to experience change all the time. Likewise, there are no people or institutions that hate all changes.

Sadly, some experts box people into three permanent groups according to their response to change:

  1. Endorsers,
  2. Resisters, and
  3. Fence Sitters.


This kind of categorization is unproductive and doesn’t align with reality. Yes, for a given change, you may find all these three types of people. However, for another change, they may not stay the same. Those who hated the previous change may become passionate or even venture out to lead the next change, and vice versa…

Becoming pro-change doesn’t mean you are equally passionate and love all changes that come your way. But when you become pro-change, whether you like a given change or not, you’re ready to befriend and take advantage of changes that affect your respective life, career, and industry.

Do you already have this trait? If so, your organization and community are very lucky! There are very few change agents that excel in turning change into opportunity and using it as a competitive edge.

Swim dressed! You don’t know when the tide goes out

If you’re pro-change and equip yourself, your people, and your organization very well and ahead of the curve, you won’t be afraid of change. You may even use it as one of your competitive advantages.

While others are stumbling and struggling to survive, you create and innovate in the midst of a crisis.

  • You’re busy redefining the future.
  • You’re preoccupied with setting up the rules of the game in the aftermath of the change/crisis.


What an advantageous place to be!

Sadly, many leaders appear confident and in charge during normalcy. They seem reliable during peacetime. Of course, until…

These ill-prepared leaders put themselves, their people, and institutions in danger and in a very disadvantageous place when change or crisis hits.

No wonder why Warren Buffet- the guru of investing, famously said: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

Don’t be like many who are swimming naked. Don’t let your family, team, organization, and community be led by naked swimmers 😊 You don’t know when the tide goes out.

COVID revealed who is who

Crisis reveals who is who. It swifts the seeds from the chaff.

What is more? It creates heroes and heroines while banishing others to the island of irrelevance.

Like you, I’m saddened by the wreckage COVID caused and the many precious lives we lost. I wish it never happened. But you and I don’t have any control over such global crises. They happen without our permission.

Our job as leaders is to prepare ourselves, our teams, organizations, and communities ahead of the curve well in advance for potential crises that may hit our shores.

Those organizations and communities that responded well during the pandemic were those that were led by leaders who did their homework well before the outbreak of COVID. They were proactive and built their resilience before the pandemic broke out.

Mind you. They hadn’t known it was COVID coming… They didn’t need to know a coming crisis by name. They just needed to prepare for any crisis… And they did!

Unplanned changes like COVID happen, in most cases, when we least expect them. Many of us find ourselves blindsided and ill-prepared. That is why we should always be on standby because we don’t know what personal or collective crisis is going to hit us next.

Though many people and institutions deal with planned changes well, very few invest their time, energy, and resources for unplanned changes.

Most deal with a crisis when it shows up. Once it is a must to respond. Even then they struggle to:

  1. Adapt,
  2. Drag their legs,
  3. Hesitate, and in the process lose their market share, go under, bankrupt, or even vanish forever…


Ethiopian Airlines unleashed its creativity amid a crisis

Not Ethiopian Airlines (EAL). When COVID hit, many airlines folded their wings. A few lucky ones were bailed out by their respective governments while others downsized.

Unlike many of its peers, EAL- Africa’s best airline, unleashed its creativity in the midst of a global crisis that threatened its industry as never before.

The airline did two things to spread its wing, keep flying, stay in business, and remain useful when the world needed it the most:

1. Collaborated with Israel Aerospace Industries to temporarily convert some of its passenger plans to cargo planes in its own in-house maintenance warehouses. It was reported that at the height of the pandemic, on top of other cargo services, EAL transported 1 billion doses of vaccine around the world! Because of its heroic and innovative intervention, EAL won two awards at the Air Cargo News Awards 2022:

a) ‘Best Cargo Airline-Africa’, and
b) ‘Cargo Airline of the Year’.


2. Produced and also maintained Mechanical Ventilators within its compound in partnership with a Chinese company.

The moral of this story is that while other airlines panicked and took a low profile, EAL stepped up to the hour and demonstrated leadership.

While others felt helpless, and even victims of a crisis for which they didn’t have any control, EAL- The New Spirit of Africa, refused to bow down. As a pro-change agent in the airline industry, it played a very critical and historic role both within the country, in Africa, and globally in the fight against a global pandemic.

The lesson we all should take from EAL is that we should have some sort of formal or informal crisis management system in place well before we need it.

  • We should revisit and keep updating it;
  • We should prepare for different scenarios;
  • We should also build our personal and institutional capacity during normalcy to quickly respond if any crisis manifests suddenly.


If we do our homework in advance, intentionally, and proactively, regardless of which crisis will be hitting us next, not only do we survive and outlast it, but we may also thrive in its aftermath…

A quick tip on how to deal with unplanned change

Discussing details about what one can do to prepare for an unknown crisis is beyond the scope of this blog. I mentioned a few generic things you could do such as creating and updating a crisis management system. I may come back again another time to write about this in detail. For now, let me give you a quick tip.

Have an early warning system that sniffs and detects changes and crises long before they show up at your shore.

Those who were overwhelmed dropped the ball, went under, bankrupt, and irrelevant after a major change or crisis like COVID were the ones who were without any system and backup plans for different change and crisis scenarios. They didn’t have a system or a process such as an early warning system.

You don’t want to be like them when the next crisis hits. Time to be strategic, think critically, project into the future, and prepare your ‘war game!’

Some of the challenges workshop participants have been facing

Coming back to the workshop I facilitated last week, here are some of the challenges participants mentioned:

  1. Inspiring and engaging others in a constantly changing workplace,
  2. Selling change agendas some of the participants themselves don’t believe in,
  3. Shiny object syndrome where they’re dealing with so many changes at the same time,
  4. Lack of closing changes on time and properly, and so on.


3 approaches successful change agents employ

I don’t have space to cover everything we discussed in the workshop. It was very engaging. I got some positive feedback from both the organizer and some of the participants.

But, at least, let me give you a few approaches successful change agents have been using, which I shared with the participants. You may consider adopting these to succeed in this change-riddled 21st C:

  1. Create a pro-change culture. Successful change agents and their organizations create and sustain a risk-taking culture. They use their culture to tap into change as a competitive edge. The workplace encourages and incentivizes the inhabitants to take risks to create and innovate in the midst 0f change and crisis. They also immunize their people ahead of the curve. They recognize a change that is coming and prepare their team and organization well in advance. Have you used change as one of your competitive advantages? Is your culture risk-averting or risk-taking?
  2. Embody change. Change agents and pro-change organizations have bought into what Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change that you would like to see in the world.” They become the change before they’re forced to change. When it arrives, they’re ready for it. They may even cause some changes to happen sooner through creativity and innovation. They create new products and services that are needed in the new norm. While others are resisting or hesitating, they jump ship, create a new paradigm, and come up with new rules that govern and guide their industry. Do you have a pro-change mindset? Are you also helping your people to develop such psychology?
  3. Use multiple models. Extraordinary change agents simplify the process of change by using change models. They understand that models aren’t perfect, and all models are flawed. Regardless, they use models to help them simplify the concept change itself and how it works. In the workshop I mentioned earlier, I shared with the group 3 models. Depending on your industry, organization, and other factors, one model may not help you to explain what is happening. Whether you use one or a combination of models, the latter helps you guide yourself and your people on the journey. They explain what your team should do at a given stage to go to the next level until the change is implemented and cemented. Which model or models have you used so far? Which one resonates with you the most? Why?
  4. Go beyond the opposition. The statistics show that two-thirds of change fail. Interestingly, most of these changes don’t fail because of mere opposition. What makes them fail is the inaccurate responses to the opposition. Successful change agents don’t assume that all resistances are the same. They first learn the level at which someone is opposing the change, and then they tailor their response accordingly. They don’t use the same approach all the time. Sometimes they respond at the intellectual level by giving more info, case studies, examples, and scenarios to help the person understand the change and its benefits. Other times, they go beyond the surface to address the underlining resistance at a deeper level by connecting at emotional or heart levels. Which level (s) of resistance have you been facing? How have you been responding? Were you effective?


In conclusion, change is part of our personal, institutional, and communal lives. The more we become friends with change, develop, and refine our competencies to lead change, the more we succeed individually and collectively. Like every other skill, this is something you can acquire and improve. However, you shouldn’t stop at just surviving and outlasting change and crisis. You should use the existing, pending, and upcoming crises to create and innovate and gain a competitive edge. Don’t forget. One great change agent at the top is not enough. You have to raise as many pro-change agents as possible throughout the organization if your desire is to stay competitive, advance ahead of the curve, and remain relevant during and in the aftermath of change/crisis…

If you may have any questions or would like us to arrange a half or full-day change and crisis management workshop or webinar, please reach out at [email protected]