The Real World of Change Leaders

When discussing the “human side of work,” we often emphasize the impact of change on employees and teams. However, it is equally crucial to recognize and appreciate the invaluable role of Change Leaders, Facilitators, Practitioners, and Consultants. These unsung heroes work tirelessly behind the scenes, supporting and guiding organizations through periods of transformation.

In this article, we shed light on the human side of the Change Leaders themselves, exploring the importance of managing their expectations, maintaining their boundaries, and celebrating small victories, as well as the reality of managing some of their clients’ most disgruntled and motivated employees.

Who Are We?

We are the weird and wonderful bunch who thrive in ambiguity and recognize anchors in the middle of the storm. Organizations work with us to support their transformation efforts. New technology system implementations, mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, workplace relocation, refurbishment, etc., can trigger these transformation efforts. We exercise analytical and creative parts of the brain as we manage complexity while influencing, practicing empathy, and engaging stakeholders. One of our superpowers is the ability to see the 50,000 ft view and drill down to the individual-aligned objective. Often, we are brought in not just to drive behavioral and mindset change but to validate strategies and align leadership. However, our practice is often reduced to hand-holding, feel-good events, and making leaders feel good about ticking that empathy box.

Managing Our Expectations

We need to manage our expectations while working with clients. While we can see the impact of a transformative strategy, our clients are often not ready to fully commit to change. I have coached change consultants worldwide who have felt demoralized after being reduced to sending a few tactical communications. While some are ready to walk away from such engagements, this is also an opportunity to build rapport and oil the gears of change within that organization. It is also important to remember that not all projects have a transformative impact, and tactical communications may be sufficient. Branding yourself and clarifying your area of expertise and preference is important here!

Another way to better manage our expectations is to recognize that we need to learn more about their business than they do. The recent paradigm shift in our industry has led to new methodologies and approaches to change strategy development. Most clients will no longer tolerate consulting narcissism, which I coined when consultants try to tell you about your own business and people without engaging with them. The shift to active co-creative change strategy development can do wonders for both parties to feel aligned in the change impact and organizational readiness for change.

Maintaining Boundaries with Clients

As Change Leaders, we rely on building rapport and often form close relationships with our clients to drive organizational change. However, it is crucial to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries. We must balance our empathetic support with the objective analysis necessary for effective change implementation. By setting clear expectations and maintaining a professional distance, we can provide the best possible guidance while safeguarding our well-being. This approach ensures that we can remain focused, unbiased, and resilient in facing challenges.

Remembering to Celebrate the Small Wins

Amidst the complexities of change, Change Leaders must acknowledge and celebrate the small victories along the way. Large-scale transformations often take time, and progress may need to be faster at times. Recognizing and celebrating even the tiniest milestones can boost morale, motivate ourselves, motivate our clients and teams, and maintain a positive outlook. Celebrating these accomplishments reinforces the belief that change is possible and their efforts make a tangible difference. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of resilience and perseverance.

If you are in a consulting role, this could also be established by mindful planning of work effort and payment schedules. If you are employed, this could look like defining SMART performance metrics per project or stakeholder and collecting testimonials at each pulse check-in. If you are in a team of Change Leaders, this could be setting up a gratitude Teams or Slack Channel. Be each other’s hype man/woman, and find ways to celebrate! I will always accept an impromptu 90s dance party.

The Reality of Managing Some of Our Clients’ Most Disgruntled and Motivated Employees

This section highlights why I wanted to write about this topic in the first place. My calendar is full three weeks in advance, with change leadership consultants and employees worldwide wanting to talk, vent, debrief, and trade stories. Some of these stories are heartwarming and showcase how our work has not only transformed some peoples’ workplace experience for the better but the new behaviors and mindsets have spilled over into their personal lives and created healthier, happier human beings. This is the joy of being a Change Leader. Conversely, many of my peers have had horrifying experiences with client employees spitting on them, to being verbally abused for trying to encourage and influence change. Crazy right?

The reality is that change can be scary, poorly managed, and under-funded. Change sticks with you.  Some organizational changes can cause employees to feel anguish, threatened, and a loss of identity, causing them to lash out.

Black Dog Institute, the only medical research institute in Australia dedicated to researching mental health for all ages, found that workers with a heightened sense of job insecurity are likelier to experience adverse psychological effects such as stress, poor well-being, and depression. Several work conditions and settings increase workers’ experiences of stress and increase the risk of workers developing a mental illness, most commonly anxiety or depression. The research into psychosocial hazards at work and its correlation to physical or psychological harm is so strong that Australia is paving the way with a new national Code of Practice, which means that mental health safety is just important as physical safety in the workplace.

As Change Leaders, we are not HR or therapists, but we can manage change risks, empathetically put ourselves in the shoes of our client’s employees, make the complex simple, and reframe and shift fixed to growth mindsets.

What About Us & Our Mental Health?

While we love working in this field, engaging in change work can be demanding and emotionally draining.  Psychologists, therapists, and other professionals require ‘supervisory time’ to check in, decompress, discuss strategies, and reflect on their practice. We, too, need a space to offload, sigh, breathe, elate, release, and revitalize. A space with tools, support, and energy to help us re-center and start every day with our best foot forward and a mind at ease. Engaging with others who understand the intricacies of our role provides a valuable outlet for sharing experiences, seeking advice, gaining fresh perspectives, fostering personal growth, receiving support, and bolstering resilience.

For this reason, I am launching a Global Change Leader Community focused solely on giving us space to release stress and bad juju and opportunities to revitalize and reenergize. It’s a big undertaking but a worthwhile one. If you would like to get involved and join the list once launched, drop your name here.


The human side of work involves understanding and supporting those affected by change and recognizing and valuing the Change Leaders, Facilitators, Practitioners, and Consultants themselves. By managing our expectations, maintaining boundaries, celebrating small victories, and finding community, we can navigate the challenges of our roles while cultivating personal and professional growth. The dedication and expertise we bring to our work are pivotal in driving successful organizational change. As we strive for a better future, let us remember to appreciate and support each other as we enable transformative journeys.

Learn more about our Author: Cristina is fiercely committed to supporting organizations and individuals to unlock potential and grow with purpose. She has a demonstrated history of supporting clients, nationally and globally, through organizational transformation initiatives. Her strategy and transformation projects span technology, culture, experience programs, people and mindset, and place.  As an educator she helps organizations and leadership teams built trust and develop cohesion and the skills to develop high-performing teams. With the ability to work across multiple verticals and industries, she is passionate about developing creative, meaningful and measurable solutions for organizations. She is a community builder and an advocate for people-centered business practices and is a champion of new power models which acknowledges the wisdom of the collective. In action, she leads with compassion, directs with candor, and manages with agility.

*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.