Successful inner leaders have mastered the techniques of undertaking planned actions that produce appropriate responses on the part of their followers and in their personal sense of themselves. That is, inner leaders are follower change agents. Fostering change is getting people to sacrifice to behave as the leader desires when they are under no obligation to do so. It is a persuasive task, developmental, growth producing, and other-directed. It is more a teaching and counseling technique than it is a directive role. It is a service role, one that involves commitment and sacrifice by both leader and follower. And the results are change in the essential character of the inner leader, each member of his or her work team, and the larger communities within which they both work and live.
Fostering change and transformation in the work community goes beyond shared responsibility and connotes a relationship protective of the purposes, methods, and resources of the group. Inner leaders may, on occasion, support individuals in taking innovative activities that risk community resources. Most often, their role is to preserve and protect the integrity of the group while they take action to develop it into something they think is better—for the group and for themselves.
Thus, much of inner leadership is an influence process aimed at transforming—or changing the nature and character of—coworkers, community structure, and operating systems. Inner leaders inspire and preside over an encompassing change process that impacts them personally, as well as individual stakeholders and the work community itself. Transforming inner leaders try to advance the needs of their followers so that they align with their own goals and aims. In doing this they pay attention to the individual by understanding and sharing in the realization of followers’ developmental needs. Influencing others to change involves trusting them to do their best (McMillen, 1993).
In the process of leading on the basis of their intimate values, inner leaders create a new scale of meaning within which followers can see their lives in terms of the work community. They engage the heart (Conger, 1994; Kouzes and Posner, 1987) of each community member. The leader’s role is to transform the basic focus of the lives of followers and of their institution in ways that enhance both. Inner leaders have always done this, but the profession has only recently recognized transformation as a “new” role for them. In this transforming role, inner leaders take an active part in helping followers change to become their best selves. Part of that transformation is helping to change followers into leaders and transforming the firm into a different social institution.
This transformation technique includes ideas of both creativity and innovation. Inner leaders, however, most often foster innovation among work-community members because any follower can innovate, while only a select few are naturally creative. Inner leaders prioritize innovation and give everyone in the community space to innovate. They encourage work-product champions (Peters and Austin, 1985), people who take personal ownership of a specific service program or product line and shepherd it through to completion.
The innovation change technique sees the inner leader’s role as seeking personal transformation as well as changing followers (and the institution) to achieve the shared vision. This is a process of converting both into something more than they previously were. Innovation is worthwhile because innovative people and work communities are especially apt at responding to change in their environments. Innovation, for inner leaders, defines true leadership. Inner leaders use innovation to try to change the work community to fit the world. Managers, on the other hand, often try to change the world to match the work community.
Change theory dates from the pioneering work of Kirt Lewin (1994) in the first decades of the twentieth century. He proposed a simple, four-step change process:
Create dissatisfaction; sensitize the work community to the need for change
Unfreeze the status quo
Others have embellished this model, but its intrinsic logic is compelling and no one has substantially improved upon this construct. They have only added detail to one or another of the basic processes of change. Lewin’s model is a simple, yet useful, method of assessing a change plan to determine its chances for success. This uncomplicated change model provides leaders with insight about when and how to begin a change event. It also suggests the forces in any situation that may impact on the change or desired results from that change.