I asked several practitioners whom I respect to write guest posts about how they relate to two previously released series: Character/Presence and Cultivating Character. Donna Brighton, a seasoned professional in our field, is the fourth contributor to this series.


By Donna Brighton

Donna Brighton_COLORI entered the field of change management after seeing organizations spend exorbitant sums of money without achieving their intended outcomes. I heard that “people, process, and technology matter,” but found that the people part was often overlooked on projects.

My study of change management gave me insights about approaching those missing people pieces. Along the way to becoming a “seasoned practitioner,” there were three distinct areas that defined my journey to practicing the craft at the mastery level.

  • Learn the craft
  • Practice with integrity
  • Help others on the path

I have since come to understand that each of these is a key element of my character, and how I show up (my presence) with my clients and colleagues.

Learn the Craft, and Never Stop Learning

At the very beginning of their careers, all practitioners must learn the language, tools, and processes in order to become technically proficient. As an emerging practitioner, I was eager to learn the craft of change management. I remember sitting at a client site every day after office hours to learn from a master practitioner who was willing to tutor me. This was invaluable in my development and accelerated my understanding and practice of change management.  

You become what you do. Since character matters, I intentionally invest at least 10 – 20% of my annual earnings in learning and getting better at what I do. Learning refines my capabilities and improves who I am and how I show up in my work. The key to success is focusing on what you do well. I believe that every person has unique strengths and abilities rooted in their character. Understanding my unique abilities and investing in making them better ensures that I continue on the path to mastery.

I recently read about the difference between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.” Someone with a growth mindset thinks big and is interested in learning and growing. A mindset that is fixed operates within artificial limits and avoids failure. A growth mindset is the essence of my passion for learning. Thinking big enables me to become more of who I am. What I build or create today will either empower or restrict me tomorrow. By applying a growth mindset to my practice, I refine my character to more fully appear through my presence.

As I matured in the practice of change management, I continued to learn. It is easy to get caught up in an attempt to master all the models, methods, and approaches, and determine which one is best. The more I practiced, however, the more I realized that it’s not just about the methodology. To achieve lasting change that leaves a legacy, character and presence must be part of my work. My pursuit of increased levels of effectiveness in the craft has taught me that I need to keep learning in order to bring all of who I am to what I do.

Practice With Integrity

In his series on character and presence, Daryl reminds us that our character is grounded in the depths of personal experience, and that it is always in play. It is crucial to the effect we have on our clients. Without character, methodology is sterile, and the benefits we are able to give to clients will be minimal. Here are some examples of how I have seen character and presence playing itself out in my career.

  • Early in my career, I was the practice director of a flourishing ERP team. We bid on a project to implement Human Resources, Base Benefits, Payroll, General Ledger, and Accounts Payable for the local paper company. We had four months to get everything done on a fixed price contract. I spent hours coming up with a clear and specific agreement about who was responsible for which parts of a project. I was open, honest, and managed expectations carefully to ensure that we were on track. About seven weeks into the project, the client acknowledged that they were not meeting their commitments and agreed to pay additional fees. This additional cash flow enabled us to provide additional support and, by working closely together, we were able to overcome some significant challenges. We had fourteen union contracts, limited time, and many data conversion issues due to data inconsistencies. We successfully went live on January 1 with minimal disruption to the organization. No amount of methodology or great change practice would have enabled us to deliver a functioning system for the client without applying character and presence to the way I engaged and worked with the client.
  • I was presented with the opportunity to go to Hawaii and work with a premier education provider as they underwent significant change. I was excited about the project until I talked with the initiating sponsor. Through my extensive conversation and deep questions, I determined that there was no appetite for true change. The client was willing to pay me to come to Hawaii and work on a project, but without true intention for change, I knew that I would not be able to make a real difference. Practicing the craft of change with integrity meant that I opted not to take the project and I turned down a chance to spend a few months in paradise.
  • More recently, I was responding to an RFP that asked me to propose on creating change management capability through training. I realized that by simply responding to the questions and giving them an approach, I would not deliver the results they wanted. I completed the parts of the RFP that were relevant and responded to the methodology portion with the statement that “I’d be committing consulting malpractice” to propose something that I knew would not achieve their stated objectives. I explained that it was important to me to deliver what they wanted and they were selecting a solution I knew could not meet their needs. This resulted in many follow-up conversations. Eventually, I was hired because my client knew that I cared and that I would not take their money without knowing I could do the work that would enable their success. My character played an integral role in building the trust and credibility required to accomplish real change. 
  • The practice of presence ties directly into the change and culture work I do with organizations. Change agents fail to achieve their goals when underlying tacit cultural norms are not understood and addressed. Change methods, models, or tools are applied at the surface level of an organization. Culture gets deep down into the soul of an organization. Culture is its character. Just as I need to understand who I am and bring that to my practice, I cannot be successful if I do not pay attention to the organization I work with and honor it through the change. For example, I am working with a client who is implementing a new strategy. Although the strategy is excellent and communicated well, some fundamental beliefs created resistance. I utilized a culture assessment to see a picture of the character in the organization. Working with the leadership team, I created specific action plans to address the underlying beliefs before applying a process, method or tool. This increased the impact of the change work. Really big changes requires changing mindsets along with behaviors.

The theme throughout each of these examples is practicing with integrity. As Daryl says, “Presence is the functional link between our interior character and the external impact we want to have with clients.” I believe that integrity is about the results and the relationships we create that come from practicing authentically.

Help Others on the Path

I have worked hard to live up to my full potential and I want to help others do the same, so I have intentionally found ways of passing it forward. Whether it’s volunteering to assist a global non-profit organization in the throes of change or my fulfilling my role as a Board member for the Association of Change Management Professionals, I believe in giving back. Being a master practitioner requires more than just learning and aligning character and presence. Generosity is a core component on the journey to mastering the practice of change. 

Have you taken the time to read and absorb Daryl’s blog posts? He’s sharing a lifetime of wisdom and insights. All you have to do is make the time to read, absorb, and apply in order to benefit from his genius. Idea generosity is a sign of a master practitioner. The more I share what I know, the more I learn and grow. Some practitioners develop a magic method or a powerful position on something but they want to keep it to themselves. Only through giving ideas can we make a difference and be a part of change that matters. I’ve learned that it’s not the information or idea that creates transformation—it’s my presence or the way in which I apply the information or idea. So be generous and share what you know.

Learn, cultivate your character, nurture your presence, and practice generosity. This may seem like a tall order for a new or even experienced practitioner. Remember, it is a journey, not accomplished all at one time.

Questions to contemplate:

  1. Are there ways to capture the lessons you’ve learned on your path to mastery? Do you have a plan for doing that?
  2. Have you taken time to become more aware of your character?
  3. What are the key elements of your character as you practice the craft?
  4. How are (or will) you bring it forward through your presence?
  5. How can you be more intentionally generous? Is there someone you can mentor in order to pass on the information and insights you’ve learned? What about giving back to the profession through volunteer service?

Organizations like Clearmodel, Kraft Foods, and Lockheed Martin hire Donna to solve for the right direction. She holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and serves as an officer and board member for the Association of Change Management Professionals.

You can learn more about Donna and her work from her website, www.brightonleadership.com. Donna invites your questions and comments. Her email is change@brightonleadership.com.

 Next: Answering Your Questions About Character and Presence