Assessing Your Strengths as a Change Leader

Great change leaders balance skills across four domains: Vision, Process, Relationships, and Problem Solving. It’s the well-rounded change leader who is best able to navigate constant change. While it’s common for some leaders to have areas of relative strength, focusing too heavily into one or two of these domains often means the others atrophy and become blind spots. It can also create tunnel vision: if your strength is process, you might see everything as a process problem even if it’s really more about relationships.

If you are curious about where you might lean and where you might have blind spots, use Outside Angle’s Universal Framework for Change Leadership to help you get some insight into where you are today—and prioritize the skills you want to attend to as you grow as a leader. Here’s how.

Assess Your Change Leadership Strengths

Step 1: Learn the four domains

Universal Framework for Change Leadership

One of the great things about this framework is its simplicity. You can get the gist in just a couple of minutes.

Domain 1: Vision. Effective change leaders create a clear and detailed vision for the future. They make that vision concrete enough that their teams and stakeholders can see themselves in it, understand how it differs from today, and why it is preferable to the current state. They constantly iterate and evolve this vision based on new information and changing context, and they communicate it simply and clearly.

Domain 2: Process. Effective change leaders map out and manage an effective process for getting from the current state to this future vision. They align the resources and capacity to implement this process effectively. They prioritize tasks and successfully complete them. They attend to the important details and get things done.

Domain 3: Relationships. Effective change leaders develop strategic relationships that create a coalition of support around the change, one that is durable and there when the going gets tough. This means cultivating trust and treating others with dignity and respect. It means listening, collaborating effectively, and connecting with people as individual human beings.

Domain 4: Problem Solving. Effective change leaders break down and solve the problems that inevitably arise along the way. They are calm and productive when things go wrong, breaking down challenges into solvable pieces, and converting them into opportunities. They demonstrate resilience and fortitude, learning from challenges in a way that updates the vision and process.

If one of these competencies is weak, it will be much more difficult to lead change. But so too if one is overly present. We can all think of examples of leaders who were so strong in one of these areas that their greatest strength was also their greatest vulnerability. I share a few examples below.

Step 2: Think back

Sometimes it’s easier to recognize the manifestation of strengths in others, than to see how they show up (for better or worse) for ourselves. Think about a leader with whom you’ve worked. Especially try to think of one who was very heavily oriented towards one or two of these areas.

  • Can you think of a great visionary who struggled to complement their vision with process and was new ideas all the time?
  • Can you think of a leader who was so strong in creating process that they struggled to get out of the weeds, so to speak, and let the team manage the work?
  • Can you think of a leader who was so invested in building relationships that they weren’t willing to do hard things that would make anyone unhappy?
  • Can you think of a leader who was such a competent and courageous problem solver that they never planned ahead?

Once you start doing this exercise it’s easy to start to see why balance is the goal, and how quickly our greatest strengths can become our biggest vulnerabilities. Especially in intense change scenarios, we tend to gravitate towards the domains where we’re most comfortable. Visionaries vision. Process people plan and do. Relationship people shore up their alliances. Problem solvers solve things.

Step 3: Rate yourself

Now that you understand the four domains, and the tensions and relationships between them, it’s time to self assess. There’s nothing complicated about it. Simply rank the domains in order from strongest to weakest. Then, jot down a few sentences about why you rated them as such.

Here’s a personal example. My personal profile is 2 (Process) > 3 (Relationships) > 1 (Vision) > 4 (Problem Solving). I see myself as being good at figuring out a path forward and following it. I find fulfillment producing quality deliverables, and getting tasks done. I enjoy building teams, connecting with people, and bringing them along the journey. I feel less competent and effective at deciding what target we should be aiming at in the first place (vision), and I’m definitely not the first responder type. I sometimes get flustered and frustrated by emergent problems and unexpected crises, sometimes trying to avoid them entirely and other times reacting emotionally or defensively instead of with curiosity and openness.

Step 4: Reflect on your strengths

Now it’s time to make some meaning of your profile.

  • How are your strengths serving you?
  • How is your competency in these areas creating vulnerabilities for you?

Jot down a few sentences in response to each of these questions.

Here’s another personal example, building on my profile. My strengths in the process domain help me break ambiguous problems down into actionable steps that generate forward momentum. My strengths in the relationships domain help me be bring people together to do hard things. On the other hand, my heavy orientation towards process hinders my problem solving capabilities. Instead of seeing opportunity in unexpected challenges I tend to react first with feeling like, “Hey, this wasn’t part of the plan!” My strengths in relationships can sometimes weaken vision as I prioritize keeping people happy over making bold or decisive moves.

Step 5: Make a plan

Now identify some adjustments you want to make to get more balanced across the domains.

  • What do you want to do more of?
  • What do you want to do less of?

For me it’s about dialing back process and relationships in order to grow in vision and problem solving. I’ve set the following personal goals:

  • More often make sure there is clarity about what success looks like, and less often jump head first into action.
  • Hold less attachment to my plan, and more openness to getting there a different way.
  • More often go directly towards a messy problem, with less avoidance and hope that it will go away on its own.
  • Have less concern for whether others are comfortable in the moment, and more comfort creating discomfort.

For another change leader, their more/less list could be the opposite of mine. Maybe they need to attend more to what others think, not less. Maybe they need to take action faster, and currently spend too much time sharpening the vision. Since the goal is balance, the exercise is calibration. The first step is self-awareness.

Focus on Balance and Growth

All change efforts require the same ingredients to succeed.

Over the long term, the goal of course is to become the best change leader you can be. This requires both balancing across the domains and also purposefully nurturing the skills in each. It’s better to be a five out of ten in all four domains than a seven in some and a three in others. But it’s also better to be a seven in all domains than a five. Balance and growth together.

As you do the work, your profile may well change. I’ve worked very hard over many years to build process skills based on the roles and contexts where I found myself. Earlier in my change leadership journey, vision may well have ranked as my strongest domain. Now it’s a domain I have to intentionally improve to get back in balance, and get to the next level.

This profile can be helpful as an individual exercise, but even more so when it is used together by a team. Making your profile transparent can help others understand your leadership better, help you balance and grow, and create easier openings for multi multidirectional feedback. However, even if you’re engaging in this self-reflective activity alone, it has great value as a tool for building self-awareness, and I encourage you to come back to it again and again as you continue your own change leadership journey.