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Is disruption worth it? Change Leaders vs. Change Agents.

When I’m new to a company – whether as an employee, director, or investor – I have to fight the burning temptation to get dirty and start changing things. After all, there’s always room for improvement, right? Change Agents are all the rage these days, with numerous blogs on the topic like this one on Forbes with dire warnings for executives that don’t become Change Agents themselves.

As recently as few years ago, I was a Change Agent. I wasn’t afraid to make waves, to reinvent teams and process and products, and to shed old ways in favor or the new. Sometimes “change for the sake of change” (without enough thought about alternatives and effects) was enough. But I now believe there’s a distinct difference between change and balanced improvement. Here’s why.

At one company recently, there’s plenty of opportunity for change. We could change sales leadership, the build process for new product iterations, and the way new customers are welcomed. We could change a lot, and if it were a smaller company it might be able to absorb that amount of change, but the leadership of this particular company is both entrepreneurial as well as experienced. They know that too much change at once could kill the many things about this company that are working, and put everyone’s investment at risk, including mine. Would Change Agents think this way?

I think we need a new term for Change Agents who think before acting, balance change with risk, and aren’t afraid to make changes but do so only after considering the ripple effects that changes have on the rest of an organization. Leaders like that aren’t just Change Agents, they’re good entrepreneurial managers, or maybe just Change Leaders.

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