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What on earth is a ‘change agent’ and what use is one?

December 10, 2012

Why does the co-founder and now out-going CEO of an award-winning, environmental organisation spend quality time with senior executives in banking and telecoms?  Let’s take a brief look at how this experienced and pioneering change agent tackles transformational change in business and beyond.

Around the age of fifteen Nigel Hughes discovered that he was an activist. And by that he does not just mean a social campaigner, though that is certainly part of it. From an early age he has been a provoker and motivator of people, an organiser, leader, and sometimes an explosive change initiator.

change ahead

In the challenge of achieving personal change, Nigel sees little difference between: well-paid senior and middle managers struggling to meet deadlines; marginalised people with life threatening conditions that are fighting for dignity; and rainforest dwellers who are claiming their land rights. All these people can gain from creative and inspirational help.

What makes the difference? It is what astute leaders recognise as invaluable: the respectful but provocative intervention of an experienced outsider who can bring fresh insights to challenging or stale situations. Sometimes this means helping to facilitate enlightening conversations that change how people see themselves and their issues – shifting perceptions for healthier horizons. By releasing the electric energy to awaken, such conversations allow people to look afresh at their working practices, talents and blind spots.

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It’s too high!


And they came,

And he pushed

And they flew.

                                                                                         Christopher Logue

If senior executives want real change in their people, their organisations and therefore their success rates, they often need to face hearing things they don’t necessarily like. To do this kind of transformational work, to enjoy the new life and success that it brings, personal challenge is a very healthy part of the process.

As Nigel Hughes rightly says,

‘I believe one has to be both direct and honest with senior professionals who are accustomed to flattery or submissiveness. Despite their power, talent and success, many find themselves stranded in their personal development because authentic feedback often peters out with each promotion and pay rise.’

It requires considerable resilience to steer often reluctant leaders to realise how they are perceived by those they lead and employ. But only by acquiring such a comprehensive picture can they hope to make the sort of sustainable changes they desire.

‘The quality of life is not determined by the circumstances,

But by what we do with those circumstances.’

                                                                                                                         Sally Fisher

How best can one create an environment where people change deeply, learn rapidly, and build stronger relationships with themselves and one another?  Life is too short to avoid risks. The recipe Nigel Hughes and others use is a mixture of insight, creativity and bold but respectful questions, meanwhile remaining hyper alert to what is unfolding – what discoveries are emerging – between people in the moment.

Nigel Hughes is co-founder of Green Light Trust, a senior consultant at Maynard Leigh Associates and member of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2012 11:51 am

    Well said! I particularly agree with the quote on how to deal with senior professionals. We need more “rebels with a cause.”
    I mention Nigel’s visit at our Business school in my blog, here:

  2. December 10, 2012 12:06 pm

    Can’t edit comment.. meant Giles not Nigel! Apologies 🙂

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