It takes a great leader to change behaviors in any organization. But what are the qualities of a leader who successfully activates change?

“Some people don't like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster”. 

So says Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla. 

But embracing change on an organizational scale is easier said than done. As we know, it is often met with a level of resistance and discomfort.

But what does it take to lead a team through challenging times? And how does a leader convert challenges into compelling opportunities? 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach that answers these questions. However, learning from the behaviors of successful change leaders is a great place to start. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown its power to collapse entire workplace structures. And some companies have been unable to adapt. So how is Elon Musk able to keep propelling companies like Tesla to outperform legacy competitors in the face of such disruptive global change? Or better yet, what does it take to successfully lead others through change?


What Is a Leader of Change?

A leader of change is someone who can guide a team towards their goals. Achieving Tesla's success required an inspiring vision that would keep the organization moving forward.

In times of uncertainty, it’s not enough to rely on managers to assign tasks to teams. Instead, it’s up to the leaders of change to influence others, take strategic risks, and advocate for success.

In order to achieve success, leaders need relevant skills to steer them in the right direction. Upskilling your leaders involves learning new skills and cultivating a growth mindset. And training builds competitiveness in the face of uncertainty. 

Effectively training your workforce is an investment that can yield significant returns.


What Makes Someone a Successful Leader of Change?

It’s helpful to look at what leaders like Elon Musk have done to achieve success in an organization. 

Here are three factors that make someone successful at leading others towards change:

1. Leaders of Change Are Great Communicators

Excellent communication and successful leadership work hand in hand. 

When communicating, leaders of change focus on the 'why’ of the change. Linking the purpose of your actions to the organization’s values can be a powerful tool to unify your team.

Elon Musk is not shy in sharing Tesla's vision for a self-driving car with his teams and the rest of the world. He has been highly successful in inspiring his employees, investors, and customers with the idea of a better future. 

Communicating effectively can build the trust and confidence that teams need.

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2. Leaders of Change Focus on Collaboration

Leading a team towards change requires a people-centric approach to leadership. A change leader’s success relies on bringing people together to plan a strategy and take action.

Collaboration can foster creativity and innovation when done right. Getting the perspective of others increases the chance of finding solutions. For example, Elon Musk has a web of connections between his various companies. He frequently collaborates with Tesla to build resources for SpaceX, his rocket company.  

Leaders of change can assess the strengths and weaknesses of a team and use that to their advantage. Great leaders focus on maximizing their team's strengths and collaborating with other groups who excel in their weaker areas.


3. Leaders of Change Are Resilient

“Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.” Elon Musk

Leaders of change are resilient and persist in the face of uncertainty. They commit to change and adapt to any challenges that arise in the process.

Elon Musk faced several challenges as a leader and continues to persist through them. Some of these include Tesla’s initial failures and negative expert reviews, with critics expecting SpaceX to fail, as well as Paypal being voted the worst business idea in 1999. 

He faced several other challenges along the way but still took calculated risks and focused on the bigger picture. He understood that progress took time, and he was committed to improvement.


In a time where the only thing that's constant is change, companies need leaders who can adapt to these changes. The skills that leaders have impact their ability to be progressive in challenging situations. 

However, not all of these skills come naturally to them. 

Providing coaching is a more deliberate approach to equipping leaders for uncertainty and activating behavior change. 

True learning (the kind that activates behavior change) is not a linear journey. Everyone has their fair share of setbacks and detours. 


We can, however, understand the value of these moments in the reflection process. Reflection allows your teams to learn more about themselves, and it has the great benefit of activating behavior change.

It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. The first couple of times will be met with frequent falls. But with the guidance of experienced wisdom, practice and repetition, learning is accelerated. 

Leaders who activate change are able to encourage others to learn from their experiences and to use them to solve problems. In that way, they activate change and bring out the best in others.