Guest Blogger - Heather Lehmann and How Character and Presence Matter in the Change Process

Character and Presence Matter in the Change Process
There is no one like Daryl Conner to get me thinking about my impact as a change practitioner. Lately I have been contemplating what differentiates those times when:
  • My work plays a pivotal role in supporting a leader in implementing their strategic vision and the approach is effortless and almost magical; and 
  • I employ the same tools and techniques but don’t feel like my work has the same lifting ability, and falls short of my desire to make a significant, lasting, real difference.
Daryl would suggest character and presence make the difference. I recently participated in his Raising Your Game workshop that explored the relationship between a change practitioner's character and presence, and the impact he or she has with clients.  
The Importance of Character and Presence
Daryl identifies two aspects of our work that contribute to our success as change professionals in his character and presence blog series:
  • What We Do—the concepts, frameworks, processes, and techniques we use
  • Who We Are—our true nature…the substance of what we have to offer as human beings (our character)
He goes on to say…
“Character distinguishes our work more than anything else, including the methodologies to which we pledge allegiance. Others can use the same concepts and techniques, but no one else can duplicate the outcomes we produce when our character interlaces with those words and actions. Character differentiates our work much more than the tools we sometimes so jealously protect. This means that, as change practitioners, the secret sauce in our profession isn’t in our heads, it’s in our hearts.”
Looking back at my career through the character/presence lens, I realize that those times when I haven’t had the impact I’ve desired, either
  1. The client hasn’t resonated with my particular character/presence package; or
  2. I haven’t brought my full self to the party.
What has gotten in my way?
Choosing the Right Clients
At the beginning of my career, I was mostly focused on the particular tools and techniques that I was using.  I didn’t really think much about who I was, and how my values and beliefs influenced how I showed up.  So if there was a great match with a client, it was more of a happy accident than by design.  
Through the years I’ve become much more aware of those specific things that differentiate me from colleagues who are just as technically qualified as I am.  I now have a much better defined sense who I am and how that impacts my clients.
Understanding one’s core nature takes continuous work. What do I consider integral to my unique character/presence package? I am:
  • a natural coach, not a natural expert
  • calm and confident
  • challenging and supportive
  • curious, not judgemental
  • deeply caring 
If a client wants an expert resource who will just tell them what to do (or do it for them), they won’t be happy working with me—and we should both walk away from the match. (And don’t get me wrong, this is way easier said than done, particularly when you’re building a business.)  But if the client really wants to develop as a leader through the change process, they’ll likely appreciate my coaching contributions.
If the client needs someone that will bring “energizer-bunny” style energy to a project to keep everyone moving at a fast pace, they will be disappointed in me; but if they need a confident, calming presence to help the team focus, then I can deliver that in spades.  
Knowing myself allows me to check if I am a match for the client and their needs beyond someone with change management expertise – and then to make the choice of whether or not to work with this client.  Does the match always need to be 100% to deliver good work?  No – but I know that the farther I stray from the character/presence match, the less likely I am to have those magical “making a lasting difference” moments with my clients that bring me great satisfaction and joy.  
Bringing my Full Self to the Party
There have been times when I believe the client would appreciate my character/presence package, and yet I fail to fully deliver it.  Why is that?  I think it boils down to two things.  Sometimes I’m tired – and when I’m tired, sometimes I get lazy and sometimes I momentarily misplace my confidence.  And also, sometimes I’m scared – when bringing my full self requires me to be vulnerable, take a risk, maybe put myself out there and potentially look a bit stupid.
Balance and rest are critical for me to combat “tired”.  Taking time for fun and breaks, connecting with people, playing with my dog Charlie – these things give me energy.  Our work, if we move beyond mere techniques and methodology, and are purposeful in using character/presence takes a lot of energy.  Self-care is absolutely critical for replenishment.
I find combatting “scared” is a bit trickier and likely deserves an entire blog on its own, but one thing that is working for me is to look for opportunities to experiment and lean into scary places.  One of my new practices is to proactively think about how I’m entering into every interaction – whether that be a conversation, a meeting, a facilitation or a training – and how I want to deliberately utilize my presence in that particular situation.  And then, throughout that interaction, doing regular self-check-ins and asking myself three questions:
  • Am I holding back in this moment?
  • What might have prompted that?
  • What could I do right now to push past the fear and put myself out there? 
Connection helps with both tired and scared.  I have an amazing group of people that I can turn to who will challenge and push me when that is helpful and support and encourage me when that is more beneficial.  Beyond colleagues – this group of people are almost like my personal board of directors.  I know that I can rely on them to help me be my best self.    
What About You?
Do you know what’s unique about your character/presence and how that impacts your work with clients? Have you deliberately thought about which clients are most receptive to those unique things?  Daryl refers to this as “playing your music to the right crowd”.  If you’re a country musician, the classical fans just aren’t going to get you.  And are you bringing your full self to the party?  When are you holding back and why?  What can you do to create the best chance of bringing your full character/presence package into your interactions with clients?
If you haven’t done this work yet, I’d encourage you to really explore this topic for yourself.  Start by reading Daryl’s blog posts on character/presence.  This is not about coming up with great marketing lines, it’s about delving into the essence of who you are at your core and how that contributes to the impact you have with clients.  
  • What innate elements of your character repeatedly help you maximize your impact with clients?  
  • What elements of your character might get in the way of you making your finest contribution? 
Think about it; try to write down what differentiates you; then test it out with friends, colleagues, and clients until you can articulate your unique character/presence package.
As Daryl says, the trick isn’t to be perfect at bringing forth your true character 100% of the time… it’s about noticing when you falter and getting up again… and appreciating the journey.

Heather has over twenty-five years of experience helping executives implement and sustain transformative business strategies. Heather’s background includes an MBA from UBC and a degree in Psychology. She also has her Certified Professional Coach designation and has advanced training/certification in change management (Prosci, etc.) and other organization development tools.  Heather has supported some of the largest private and public sector organizations in BC through complex, disruptive changes such as mergers/acquisitions, cultural transformations, technology shifts, business process redesign and major reorganizations.