Agile leadership: a new approach – Change-Agent’s Compass

Why you need a new leadership tool

You may be a business, non-profit or church leader; you may be an entrepreneur or someone with a message to spread: but one thing is sure - there is an element of breaking new ground in what you are doing.

But leading breakthrough change is hard. Pioneering is difficult and messy. There are dead-ends and discouragement as well as breakthrough; valleys as well as mountaintops.

There are no maps for the ‘purposeful person’ – the terrain is new and constantly shifting. Reaching your mission or goal is more like an ocean-journey – requiring adaptability and course correction – than a safe, predictable highway.

success journey for pioneer leaders

It's become a cliché, but it's true

And as the leader-pioneer, you know there are many things to do, many practices to adopt, many leadership skills to apply. Many things on your to-do list. And there’s the problem: it can be hard to focus on the right thing to do at the right time.

Normally there is one key thing we need to be doing, but often we don’t recognise it and focus on something else instead. The terrain has shifted but we haven’t responded. And the price of this?


  • We feel way out of our depth.
  • We get demotivated and feel like giving up
  • We end up too busy ‘fire-fighting’ to work on strategic things we know we need to
  • We work so hard we’re at risk of burn-out, or other relationships are suffering
  • We’re executing our plan but not getting the results we hoped forResults stagnate, and we’re not sure we can see a path to success

I’m a pioneer by nature and love the thrill of the new and innovative project. And I’ve struggled on these issues. Sometimes I forged ahead and left my team behind; sometimes focused too much on the long-term systems and not enough on the immediate ‘win’; other times I practically burned myself out and almost gave up.

There is a better way. When we are breaking new and shifting ground, where there are no maps, we need a compass.

What is the Change-Agent’s Compass?

The Change-Agent’s Compass is a leadership tool designed to help you focus on the ONE direction you need to take RIGHT NOW to move towards your goal.Using the ‘navigation’ analogy, it helps you observe your terrain and decide which direction you need to move in. The Change-Agent’s Compass works as follows:

  • The 8 ordinal directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) have been memorably aligned to major leadership practices and personal disciplines. These are the major directions that a change agent will need to take.
  • Each direction relates to a specific terrain. The terrain is simply that set of internal and external circumstances in which you find yourself. For example, if you are exhausted (terrain) you need to take a break (direction).
leadership practices change agent compass

It is:

  • Simple – can be captured on one-page and be easily used
  • Fast – helps us identify the most important next action in seconds
  • Comprehensive – helps us in the different ‘stuck moments’ of our pioneering journey
  • Memorable – easily learned, and get us back on track when we lose momentum
  • Deep – can be explored at length

The Change-Agent’s Compass is designed to be used in conjunction with whatever plan you have for achieving your goals. It can also be used to help create your plan.

The objective of the compass is to provide a quick reading, at any particular moment, of the key next step that will move your project forward.

Note: This article is long because I wanted to give a good discussion of each of the 8 directions of the Change-Agent’s Compass. I highly recommend you download the bundle of resources which includes a convenient PDF of the full version of this post, a link to a quick online survey to determine YOUR compass direction right now, and the one-page cheat sheet to print out and refer to at any time.

How to use it

The Change-Agent’s Compass is a simple tool that can be printed out as single page and referred to quickly. The best way to use it is as follows:

  1. Schedule a recurring ‘compass check’ - say once a week. I recommend you set an alarm or calendar reminder.
  2. Examine the ‘terrain’ you are operating in (exhausted, plateaued, …)
  3. Use the Compass to identify the direction you should be moving in
  4. Get going in that direction, using the more detailed notes for the direction for more guidance as necessary
leadership skills change agent compass small

One-glance view

There are other ways to use the tool too, in addition to ‘take a quick reading’ (above):

  • You can ‘run round the points’ – take each point of the compass in turn and consider whether you need to move in that direction this week to advance your project. This provides a quick and comprehensive check.
  • You can ‘spin the wheel’ and choose a random direction from the compass, and then brainstorm ideas for how to push further in that direction. It may help you to correct a weakness and force you to address a particular topic.

The 8 leadership practices in the Change-Agent’s Compass

So let’s get specific. Here are the 8 ‘cardinal points’ of the change-agent’s compass:

  • Nourish (refresh yourself)
  • NExt-Level (forge ahead)
  • Envision (think big)
  • SElect (choose wisely)
  • Solidify (mind your team)
  • SWitch (engage habits)
  • Why (get motivated)
  • NetWork (assemble tribe)

I’ll use the same format to describe each point (direction) on the compass:

  • A motto - for additional memorability
  • The terrain - the signs that this direction is needed
  • A summary - the basic destination you are aiming for
  • A description - an expanded discussion of all the above


Refresh yourself

  • Terrain: Burnt out, not enough time, running out of ideas, life out of balance
  • Summary: Make time for the important things, refresh yourself ready for the next push.

Leadership can be tough, especially when you engaged in pioneering activity. The journey is often hard. Your commitment to the goal is so great and you feel the weight of responsibility on your shoulders. When push comes to shove, success is down to you. The danger is that: commitment becomes compulsion, burden becomes burnout, relationships get relegated.

Are you so driven that other important parts of life are getting ignored or damaged? Is your frustration with the gap between reality and vision weighing you down? Time to adjust your direction.

Entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. It’s easy to succumb to the feeling of urgency to do everything now. But burnout and entrepreneurial fatigue can mean sabotage for your business as well as your personal life. Prioritize longevity and keep one eye on the horizon. Think about what pace you need to set now to maintain your stamina and enthusiasm for years to come.*

Adelaide Lancaster 
Founder of In Good Company

The ‘North pole’ of the Change-Agent’s compass is ‘Nourish’. When your compass swings to this point, do the following:

  • Re-establish healthy rhythms. Are you sleeping enough? Former CEO Michael Hyatt makes a compelling case that lack of sleep drains productivity and harms your leadership. Are you resting enough? The Judeo-Christian principle of Sabbath (one full day fully off work per week) is an amazing but woefully ignored gift to us. How is your exercise, your eating habits?
  • Take a break. This could be a day off, a sabbatical or a vacation. Leadership coach Michael Nichols discusses this in a brief but helpful article here.
  • Reconnect. Make the time to be with people who care about you. Go play: do something frivolous and fun. Recent research suggests that play has become undervalued in our culture and diminished to competitive sports, but it was never meant to be this way. Change down a gear or two for a short while.

Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.

Stuart Brown 


Forge ahead

  • Terrain: Results are stagnating, slow progress on major initiative
  • Summary: Make significant and rapid progress, either with a sprint (‘heads down’) or a jump (‘growth hack’).

Sometimes a project seems to be bogged down, progress is not where it needs to be, and momentum is eroding. Everybody is just getting a bit lethargic. Perhaps doubt is seeping in: can we really meet the deadlines we have set ourselves? Are our goals realistic?

Time to move in the NE compass direction: NExt-Level. The overall goal is to make significant and rapid progress on the initiative and break through the immediate barriers that are slowing everyone up.

In my experience, there are two strategies that can applied in this situation.​

Strategy #1 is “heads down

Sometimes the best way to move things forward is to lock yourself in your office and _produce_. Write the report that isn’t getting done. Develop a draft of the conference agenda that seems to be stuck in perpetual email discussion. Make a ton of sales calls to reignite the pipeline. I have applied this strategy to projects in the past and colleagues have been amazed - suddenly there is significant content on the table ready to be edited, sculpted, argued with, refined, employed.

The basic ingredients of this strategy: clear your calendar for at least half a day; turn off distractions; be crystal clear on the deliverable you set yourself, and just do it! Once you have delivered something you can release it back to the team for them to take further.

Strategy #2 is “growth hack

This basically means finding a break-through approach to taking your results to the next level, by thinking creatively about how to obtain a step-change in your results.

No traffic on your web site? Establish a partnership with a high-traffic partner. Sales process stuck? Devise a way to re-enter more strategically much higher in the customer organisation. Church lethargic? Conceive a compelling event or initiative to rally people around.

You get the idea: it is ‘think out the box’ time.

Kevin Eikenberry suggests 7 Spurring Questions to get this kind of brainstorm going, which I repost in abbreviated form below:

  • How would X solve this problem? For “X”, choose another department, another company, your Mother, a 10 year old, Benjamin Franklin, a character from a book or movie, anybody.
  • What would we do if the problem were twice as big (or half as big)?
  • How would we solve the opposite problem?
  • What does this problem remind us of?
  • How is this problem like X? In this case the "X" is any word or phrase. By forcing the connections to the random word, new ideas will burst forth.
  • How can we do A and B? Perhaps the best alternative isn't with one idea, but a by doing more than one thing.
  • How can we combine some of the ideas we have to find new and different ideas?

Recommended Resources - Next Level

Just F%^&ing Ship, by Amy Hoy.  A rallying call and practical guide to beat procrastination and DELIVER!


Think big

  • Terrain: Drifting, caught up in small issues
  • Summary: Ensure you and your team are working towards a clear and compelling target.

There comes a time in most organisations, projects or initiatives where the momentum drops. The excitement diminishes. Things become business-as-usual.  The team's focus is on humdrum tactical issues. The overall venture is drifting, somewhat. 

This drifting is a sure sign of a lack of a clear and compelling vision for people to rally round.  As the saying goes "you can't do it until you imagine it", so there has to be a shared vision for a future goal to generate momentum beyond the needs of the urgent.

I've seen this lack of vision in multiple types of organisation.  From my brother-in-law whose new CEO killed the firm's vision by announcing his big goal was "maximising shareholder returns" (what employee will get excited about that?), to the many churches who are content to cycle through the annual calendar of events without much thought to movement or direction.  But, as the Bible says, 'without a vision the people perish'!

Here are 5 steps to sharpening your vision.

1. Double-check your purpose

First thing is to check your purpose: are you sure WHY having a big and compelling goal is important... to you, your organisation, your customers?  Fulfilling a compelling vision is going to require a lot of hard work, so are you able to convince yourself and your team that it is really worth it?  Who will benefit from this vision become reality? (Note: if you say 'the shareholders' then you've not connected at a deep enough level yet!)  See the section on Why below for more on this topic.

2. Establish your Mount Everest Goal

A Mount Everest goal - also known as a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a long-term (5-10 years at least), huge but potentially achievable goal that sets your ambition for your organisation.

Ask these kinds of questions to determine your Mount Everest Goals:

  • What are we building?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What will we be the best at?

Then test your goals. Are they Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Time-bound, Stretching, Inspiring? Do they create a good amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt - meaning that you are truly pushing the boundaries?

We’re inviting people on a journey – taking them to the base of Mount Everest, pointing to the summit, and inviting them to go with us. For others to decide if they want to make the trek, they need to know what the journey is going to look like.

Why is it important that they understand the journey? Because somewhere between Kathmandu and the summit of Mount Everest a storm is going to hit, supplies will run low, there will be disagreements, tempers are going to flare, there will be challenges, there will be struggles.

Building Champions 
As quoted by Michael Nichols in Building Your Business Vision

3. Vividly describe hitting your goal.

You need to make your Mount Everest Goal / BHAG jump off the page and capture hearts, minds and imaginations.  To do this, you need to paint the most compelling and vivid picture you can of what success looks like:

  • What does the organisation look like at this point?
  • How are clients or users benefiting?
  • Who are the customers, partners, advocates at this point in time?
  • What are people saying about the organisation?
  • What does it feel like to be part of the team that made this happen?
  • What has been built? Where has the growth come from?

Write out at least half a page of vivid description.  Try to appeal to the different senses and the emotions, as well as including facts. Write it in the present tense. 

4. Define the Next Summit.

Your big goal should seem so challenging and ambitious that you're not quite sure you can achieve it.  And you certainly can't achieve it in the short term. So spend some time defining a 'next summit' - a smaller goal on the way to your big goal, that seems achievable within a reasonable time frame.

As an example, online marketer Bryan Harris recommends that if people are shooting for an audience of 10,000 subscribers (their Mount Everest goal), they should focus first of all on getting to 100 subscribers, then 1000, before finally working towards 10,000.  The 100 and 1000 are the smaller summits on the way to the Mount Everest goal.

5. Keep the vision visible.

Once you have your purpose, Mount Everest goal and Next Summit defined, take some time to keep that visible to you and to your team. Some ways to do that include:

  • A catch phrase that reminds everyone of the vivid description of your goal
  • Relentless focus on one Key Performance Indicator that illustrates progress towards your goal
  • A poster (or post-it note!) next to your desk
  • Read it out as part of a regular discipline (I suggest weekly) - to keep you connected to the big picture

Pro tips on thinking big

  • Be bold. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • Grow thick skin. If it is truly worth doing, then others will express doubts.
  • Remember everything starts small. Rome wasn't built in a day. Don’t let humble beginnings censor your ambitions.
  • Enlist others. Get your team or a trusted outsider to challenge and provoke you into thinking bigger and bolder.
  • Don't fly solo. Remember that any really compelling vision will need implementing by more than just you.
  • Focus on future regrets of small thinking. Think of the regret, the pain, the ‘what ifs’ of failing to think boldly.
  • See it as your duty. If your project is meaningful and of real service to others, see it as your duty to make your vision as big and bold as possible. They need you!
  • Remember the time is right. Thanks to the Internet it is easier than ever to think and act big.
  • Get away. Plan at least a day away, alone or with your team, to work on your vision. Unplug and avoid distractions.

Sources for these tips: Mark Tyrrell, Michael Nichols

Recommended Resources - Envision

Creating Your Business Vision, by Michael Nichols.  A simple but powerful method to develop your overall vision


Choose wisely

  • Terrain: Paralysed, dithering, too much choice, juggling too many balls
  • Summary: Prune back. Double-down on what matters. Avoid dispersing your energies or ‘analysis paralysis’.

You do it.  I do it.  It's the curse of our time. Juggling too many balls, doing too much, keeping too many projects running.

Related to that, we often have a number of unresolved decisions rattling around in our heads.  We're not quite sure so we move along trying to keep multiple options open, or trying to do everything rather than make a definite choice.

As a result of all this, we become overwhelmed and overworked whilst in some sense remaining paralysed, not committing to one thing over another.

Perhaps the time has come for you to travel 'South East' on the map and move in the direction of Select.

Selecting is about recognising that we ALWAYS making a choice.  Even "not choosing" is a choice, and a costly one at that: we expend energy on both options to keep them open whilst not making major progress on either.

It is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either.

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Greg McKeown 
Author of Essentialism

As we go through the Select process we also prune back on the UNselected options.  It's about doing less to get more of the right things done.

There are two main strategies that take us in this direction.  Let's examine them.

1. Prune for focus and growth

"You can do anything, but you can't do everything".  Pruning back to the most effective and essential elements is key to high performing leaders. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were once interviewed together and asked the reason behind their success: both immediately offered up the same answer: focusing on one key thing.

If you need to prune things back, here are some tips:

  • Use the 80/20 rule.  What are the top 20% activities generating 80% of results?
  • Use the inverse 80/20 rule.  What are the 20% of activities resulting in 80% of inefficiency and distraction?
  • Systematise. How can you address time-consuming urgent or repetitive issues at the root cause so they don't reoccur?  Build systems rather than fighting fires.
  • Know your essential intent. Greg McKeown defines essential intent as a concrete and inspiration statement of “How will we know when we have succeeded?” As an example he gives the story of Brad Pitt had started an organisation to accelerate the rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with the essential intent “to build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward.”  A clear essential intent can answer 1000 subsequent decisions.
  • Radically prioritise.  Figure out your top priority list, and then halve it.  You can always do the other half some other time.
  • Write your top goals down and review them regularly.  Without regular review, you will take your eyes off the most important things.
  • Define a single metric to capture your progress towards your essential intent.

2. Follow a decision-making process

In their book Decisive, Chip and Dan Health point out there are several common pitfalls to decision-making:

  • You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options.
  • You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
  • You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one.
  • Then you live with it. But you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.

To make better decisions, they recommend using what they coin as "the WRAP process":

  • Widen Your Options.  Avoid an artificially narrow choice ("should I do X or not?" is a no-no) and make sure you have several reasonable options on the table.
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions.  Deliberately attack the confirmation bias by asking questions to probe the negative aspects of your options.  Get benchmarks on the average results you should expect from each option.
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding.  Get away from short-term emotions in a deliberate fashion.
  • Prepare to be wrong.  Consider a range of outcomes for each option, and make sure you revisit and refine your decision at a future determined time.

There are other decision-making processes, but you should have a simple approach to broaden your thinking and make your decision-making more rigorous.

Pro tips on decision-making

  • Think about opportunity cost to escape from a narrow frame of reference.  Rather than "should I buy X" ask "what would I most like to do with the $Y it costs"
  • Beware of “Whether or not”.  It's too narrow.
  • Ask yourself: What if your current options disappeared? How would you make the best of the situation?
  • Evaluate multiple options simultaneously, so you truly have a choice.
  • Can you create an option that combines both/and?
  • Find ways to stimulate new options: someone who has already solved a similar dilemma, or a checklist of questions to expand your thinking.
  • Ask disconfirming questions.  Don't just ask the employee why they love the job you are considering; ask what they like least. (The simple analogy would be: what are the one- and two-star reviewers saying?)
  • Try to establish benchmarks on your preferred option.  What is the average outcome of the option?  (The simple analogy would be: what is the average review score? Now apply this concept to your career move or your business venture)
  • Before leaping, run small experiments to test your theories (unless the nature of the decision itself involves a big commitment).
  • Overcome distracting short-term emotions by attaining some distance (wait a little, consider the advice you would give to a friend in the same situation, consider the impact of the decision in 1 year and 10 years time).
  • Ask “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?”
  • Difficult decisions are often a sign of a conflict among your core priorities.  Revisit those to gain clarity.  Write out a set of "Operating Principles" if that helps - see here for an example.
  • Remember each choice may result in a range of outcomes. Ask the pre-mortem question: “It’s a year from now. Our decision has failed utterly. Why?” and the pre-parade: “It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. What made us so successful?”
  • Avoid drifting AFTER the decision by setting a tripwire (e.g. "if I haven't made $10K in 6 months I will give up on my business idea")

Sources for these tips: Decisive (Chip & Dan Heath), Taylor Pearson

Recommended Resources - Select

Decisive, by Chip & Dan Heath.  In many ways a definitive book on decision-making. Highly recommended.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.  A recent and compelling look at paring life down from the trivial many things to the essential few.


Mind your team

  • Terrain: Unsupported. Team distant, disconnected or squabbling
  • Summary: Attend to your team and your stakeholders. You need them and they need you.

Employees are inspired by knowing that their hard work makes a difference beyond profitability. Employees want leaders who see beyond the obvious and look to create wider reaching impact that extends into the community and influences social causes. *

Glenn Llopis 
CEO and contributor to Forbes

Most leaders - whether in business or non-profit contexts - would agree that their team is essential to achieving their vision.  In theory.  In reality of course, the health of the team seems often to get ignored for a variety of reasons: too little attention from a busy leader, or too much micromanagement by a nervous one; too little vision from an overly consensual leader; or too much pressure from an overly frustrated one.

The result? Unmotivated team members, high attrition rates, internal squabbling and dissent on minor issues. Overall: unproductive and underperforming.

Fascinating linkage between leadership and team results (HBR) (Click to open)

There are volumes of advice on team leadership available, and when condensed into a relatively short article such as this much of it is bound to sound trite and formulaic.  So I've tried to focus on two simple but profound frameworks that may be of help when you find yourself needing to Solidify your team.

Q1.  Am I balancing challenge with support?

We all have a tendency to prioritise the task (challenge orientation) or the team (support orientation).  Effective leadership requires a healthy mix.

The Leadership Investment Model looks at how a manager provides support and challenge to their team members.

It is is a classic four-quadrant model:

Low challenge / low support - Abdicator

There is not enough challenge and not enough support, leading to disengagement and apathy.

Low challenge / high support – Nurturer

There’s too much support, without enough challenge, which re-enforces the status quo. If over-used, this management style will lead to a (comfortable!) stagnation.

However, this approach may provide temporarily useful when you have a new person joining the team, in order to build trust and confidence.

Low support / high challenge - Task master

Highly challenging goals without enough support, which over time creates too much stress and may lead to burnout.

However, this approach may provide temporarily useful when you have a very experienced individual who needs to take on additional responsibility and independence.

High support/high challenge – Enabler

This is generally the most effective approach combines challenging goals with the availability of high levels of support. This approach should lead to performance and personal growth. However there may be times when a season of reduced challenge is appropriate.

Feedback should have ‘bite,’ create insight, deliver a new perspective and cause a step change.

Blakey and Day 
Authors of Challenging Coaching

Which leadership approach are you most likely to adopt by default? How can you ensure a more balanced approach?

Q2.  Am I tailoring my leadership style to their unique needs?

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen leaders make is applying a one-size fits all leadership style irrespective of the task at hand of the experience and mental state of their team members.

The leadership/learner framework below expresses the journey that a learner will go on, progressing from 'not knowing what they don't know', through the initial difficulties and desire to give up​, through to competency and mastery.

The key thing is that the leadership style needs to change at each point in the journey!

Stage 1: Excitement of the new

  • Learner – enthusiastic/incompetent
  • Leadership style – directive (high direction, example; low consensus, explanation)

The learner is about to tackle a fresh new challenge. Like a child with first bike, the learner is very excited but incompetent. The leader needs to provide strong vision and guidance (you wouldn’t ask the kid how they think they should right the bike, but instead tell them what to do).

Stage 2: Trough of despair

  • Learner – unenthusiastic/incompetent
  • Leadership style – visionary/coach (high direction, discussion, example, accessibility)

Learners get some initial experience  but start to encounter resistance, difficulty, failure. Doubt and discouragement appear: why am I doing this? The kid has fallen off the bike and is thinking that the tricycle wasn’t so bad after all!

The risk is that the learner doesn’t go through this phase to its conclusion but gets stuck oscillating between stage 1 (enthusiasm) and stage 2 (despair). The leader needs to clear their diaries, get down in the pit with the team, provide grace and vision.

The leader has to help the learner remember how desirable the final outcome will be, and that the difficulties are only to be expected but are worth battling through (vision)

Stage 3: Growing confidence

  • Learner – conscious competence
  • Leadership style – consensus (less direction, more discussion)

This is when the kid starts to ride the bike cautiously but actually reasonably well! In this stage the learner starts to implement the lessons learned in stage 2 and start to grow in confidence and enthusiasm, built on experience. The leadership style is a consensus-orientated, advisory and based on friendship.

Many of us are trained to start in this democratic-style leadership mode, which is fatal (not enough vision shared to create a shared goal, and learners have not enough experience to meaningfully contribute).

Also, this phase (stage 3) can be comfortable and the danger is we stay there and lose vitality. So the leader must initiate the transition to stage 4.

Stage 4: Passing the baton

  • Learner – the end is in sight (unconscious competence)
  • Leadership style – delegation (low direction, example, high consensus, explanation)

At this stage the learners are high experience, high enthusiasm, high confidence, high competence. Confidence is in God not themselves: no longer self-reliant but trusting in God. The kid hardly knows he riding the bike – it comes almost without thinking now!

This is where the leader begins to disengage to allow the learner to become a leader.

Stage 4 is about delegating responsibility. But delegation only comes after the preparation of the previous 3 stages. Often we try to delegate too early, before the learner has enough experience and wisdom.

The leadership stages can perhaps be summarised as:

  • Stage 1: Directive (I do, you watch)
  • Stage 2: Coaching (I do, you help)
  • Stage 3: Advisory (You do, I help)
  • Stage 4: Delegating (You do, I watch)

This model is important because we need to go through this whenever we tackle a new thing, or whenever we are in a position of leadership with someone. If a learner does not go around all stages of the model they will stagnate. This model reminds us to serve them by offering the appropriate leadership style at each time.

Pro tips on team-building

  • Find ways to increase interaction among people who need to work more effectively together (teamwork and trust can only be built when people interact informally as well as formally).
  • Avoid hierarchical language.
  • Lead from character, not position.
  • Assign important tasks to others and provide assistance as needed.
  • Regularly ask co-workers for their opinions and viewpoints.
  • Show a genuine interest in your team’s lives outside of work.
  • If your office has a door leave it open; use conference rooms for private matters.Admit your mistakes and be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Consistently share how the unit is doing towards meeting their goals.
  • Celebrate results and when teamwork is truly exemplified.

Pro tips on de-motivating your team!

  • Make your team do the work but steal all the credit
  • Micromanage people
  • Be disorganised
  • Change your mind…constantly
  • Be unclear
  • Delay decisions
  • Don’t execute
  • Say one thing and do another
  • Offer abundant criticism
  • Rarely encourage them

Sources for these tips: Eric Shanon/Jim Kouzes/Barry Posner,  Carey Nieuhof


Engage habits

  • Terrain: Not making progress. No clear path to success.
  • Summary: Switch on the execution engine: establish the right practices, processes and habits.

If you are constantly fire-fighting (dealing with urgent issues) or if you have the feeling that you are not consistently making progress towards your goal, then it may be time to switch on your execution engine, in the form of establishing personal or team habits (practices) that move you consistently forward.

Let me give two simple personal examples.

Example #1

When the market crashed in the niche my consulting firm was operating in, a few years back, we realised that our previous marketing strategy (doing good work, relying on word-of-mouth, waiting for the phone to ring) was no longer adequate.

One new habit we adopted was that everyone in the firm would make three outreach calls per day to industry contacts and new prospects.

This was a simple and trackable discipline that resulted in the firm becoming more aware of - and able to respond to - new opportunities.

Example #2

It was hard to maintain focus on this very blog alongside the various projects, challenges and disruptions of life, until I realised I needed a system.

Rather than blocking out time each day “to work on the blog”, I wrote down a list of actions for each day in the month. Now it is a simple habit of looking at my action list for the day, and doing what it says. Result: more focus and better results.

The process here is straightforward, though requires discipline to establish and maintain the new habit.

  1. Figure out what is not happening that needs to.
  2. Break the activity down into discrete steps.
  3. Decide who will do each step, where, when, and how often.
  4. Schedule each step (if a step is too vaguely defined to be scheduled, rework it until it can be).
  5. Track progress.

Pro tips for building habits:

  • When you are enthusiastic about an activity, do the hard work of scheduling it, getting things ready - to remove barriers when you are less enthusiastic
  • Start small, then get big later on. Give you - or your team - an easy win as you/they start a new discipline. Ask them to make one sales call a day and not 10. Decide to do 5 push-ups a day and not 50.
  • Put it on your calendar
  • Create little rewards to reinforce the satisfaction of doing the habit.
  • Replace bad habits with different habits - don’t just try to ‘give up’ something. Replace coffee with decaf, for example.
  • Hang a calendar on your wall and put an X on each day when you complete your activity. Remind yourself “Don’t Break the Chain”.
  • Articulate a #1 goal, break it down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily steps and ensure your habit is supporting that. Remember how the activity supports the big dream.

Recommended Resources - Switch

The Ultimate Guide to Habits, by Ramit Sethi.  A great web resource, available for free.


Get motivated

  • Terrain: Lethargic, unmotivated, unenthusiastic, directionless
  • Summary: Tap into your motivation: articulate the purpose and vision.

Katherine Keller writes: "If you are not feeling motivated, if your business is not moving forward, or if you find yourself feeling “stuck,” it is most likely because your 'why' is not strong enough to pull you through the rough spots and make you push yourself to do things when you don’t want to do them. Anyone can easily find out how to build a business. Only you can find out your true 'why'."

It’s become common to talk about ‘connecting with your why’. Michael Hyatt quotes his wife Gail as saying “People lose their way when they lose their why”.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.


The point is: if you are caught in the ‘messy middle’ between the excitement of conceiving the idea and achieving the goal, then you are going to go through moments where you wonder if it is all worth it. You get lethargic, unmotivated. You don’t have the enthusiasm you used to have for the project. For many entrepreneurs this is a very regular experience.

Decide if this is a temporary blip.  If it's just a moment of fatigue or distraction, don't overthink things and just do the next thing you need to do anyway.  Push through!  But if you truly are suffering from a sustained dip in motivation, take some time to dig deeper as outlined below.

Ask ‘why’ about 5 times. This will help you get to the real motivation for your goal. In the article I refer to above, Katherine describes her process of doing this, which looks something like the following:

  • Why do I want to make $10,000 a month?
    • So I can pay all my bills, do fun activities and invest in my future and the kids’ education.
  • Why is that important?
    • Because I want my kids to grow up in a safe and fun environment
  • Why is that important?
    • Because I want to be a successful parent.
  • Why is that important?
    • Because I only have eight more years to do everything I possibly can to provide my kids with the childhood I’ve always wanted them to have

As a result, she was above to motivate herself to get up and do the necessary work, because she had tapped in to her deepest drivers and motivations.

Think of the climactic moment.  In almost every story there is a climactic moment at the end where the hero's objective is finally attained.  Picture the climactic moment of your project.  This could be the 'Mount Everest goal' I describe under "Envision", above (read the vivid description you wrote to get going) or the 'next summit' if you need something to look forward to in the much shorter term.  But picture that moment and remember why it is going to feel so worthwhile.

Write down all the people your project will help, and why.  The most fundamental motivator seems to be the sense of helping others.  Connect with how your project will make the world a better place. Imagine specific people benefitting, directly or indirectly, from your work. Dwell on that.

Check your environment. A recent LifeHack article on motivation quotes Tim Ferriss who believes that controlling your environment is often much more effective than relying on self discipline. If your environment is motivating, that can help you get in the ‘zone’ and push forward with your productive work.

There is a direct correlation between an increased sphere of comfort and getting what you want.

Timothy Ferriss 
Entrepreneur, Author of The 4 Hour Work Week

Set a reminder. Videofruit’s Bryan Harris taught me a great trick for remembering why your project is so important. He encouraged me to set up a daily text reminder. Every day at 9am I receive a text that reminds me why my #1 goal IS my #1 goal. It is surprisingly effective as it forces to me to remember each day why I need to move forward with my project.

Step-by-step instructions to set yourself a daily SMS reminder (click to reveal)


Assemble tribe

  • Terrain: Isolated, discouraged, over-worked, feeling way out of depth.
  • Summary: Promote your idea, recruit to the cause. You can’t do this alone.

As a leader and pioneer, you are probably captured by your vision of what could be. And frustrated at the gap between reality and that vision. You are focused on moving towards the goal, and you want to get there as fast as possible.

But at some point, you realise: you are over-worked, out of your depth and isolated. The project is getting too big for you to handle yourself (or with the team you currently have, whether large or small). You simply don’t have the critical mass to take things to the next level. It’s time to network, and to recruit to the cause.

I often learn this lesson late. The combination of a pioneering spirit, personal commitment to excellence, and a sense of ownership over the project can often make it hard for entrepreneurial leaders to delegate and decentralise.

I’ve seen this in consulting (the founding entrepreneur finding it difficult to release his top performers to truly grow the business), in church life (the originator of an initiative - me actually! - finding it hard to ‘hand over the baby’ to others), and in community leadership (going back as far as Moses, who found it hard to delegate until confronted by his father-in-law!)

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African Proverb

There are at least three kinds of network development that you will need to engage in as a leader:

Internal - recruit to the cause.

This is about growing your team: people who buy into the vision you are promoting and who will serve the cause and potentially become leaders in their own right. In a corporate context, it is your core and extended team; in a non-profit context it is your volunteer base and leadership pipeline.

For example, imagine you are a pastor of a church with a new growth initiative on your heart. Although many in your congregation may be neutral to or even hostile to change, you need to build a core team who shares the same vision for growth and is prepared to sacrifice to make it reality.

External - promote the cause.

This is about - simply put - marketing. As the champion of the project, you need to be able to promote it, create interest in it and excitement about it… and get your message in front of the people who need to hear it. You’re not looking here to recruit a team, you are looking to serve the people who need the product, service or message your project represents.

Strategic - interconnect the cause.

This is the networking domain that separates entrepreneurial leaders from manager-leaders. The objective here is to interconnect your company/organisation/team with other organisations.

These organisations might either be in the same space (influencers, industry bodies, similar firms in different markets, organisations with related products, etc.) or having other relevant points of contact (organisations targeting the same geography or the same market segment; or having similar goals and values).

The objectives of strategic networking include:

  • building relationships with other people sharing your ambitions to learn, support and encourage
  • extending your reach through mutual promotion/referrals by credible partners
  • identify opportunities to multiply impact by combining unique resources across organisations
  • serving the broader cause by avoiding unnecessary duplication


This has been a long article, as each of the 8 directions of the Change-Agent’s Compass merits at least some initial discussion. We will continue to explore these leadership skills and practices on the Purposeful People blog – along with broader questions of calling and impact.

In summary –

  • Pioneering change is hard and messy. Continual course-corrections are needed.
  • The Change-Agent’s Compass is a simple tool that allows you to get a quick read on the key area you need to focus on right now.
  • Use the compass to get a quick read on where to focus, and then apply some of the more detailed techniques and suggestions to make progress in the desired direction

I’d love to get your feedback on this tool and any questions you may have as I develop further content. Please leave a comment below.

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