The 6 change leaders of the Wild West – which are you?

The 6 change leaders of the Wild West – which are you?

Before embarking on a change programme, you need to decide who can best navigate the terrain. Bernard Ross considers the options


Almost every agency or department needs to run a change programme at some point: a merger, a restructure, a new strategy. Whether you want to hire a consultant, ask a colleague to deliver it or drive it yourself, you need to decide on the role you or they are going to play in implementing that change.

Imagine, if you will, that your change process is like a wagon train. It needs a kick to get started, momentum to keep going and sound steering to keep it on course.

There are six key types of change leader that might be needed on the journey, and, sticking to my guns with the Wild West metaphor, they are: scout, wagon trainer, sheriff, homesteader, medicine man/woman and hired gun.



The scout’s job in a wagon train is to identify opportunities and threats ahead, to explore the landscape, identify risks and investigate opportunities which the leadership can then decide on.

Usually when planning a certain course of action organisations need to go through a process of scenario planning or risk analysis. For example, should we make a market entry to a specific area such as charity shops? Or should we spin off our operation in Scotland?

While the process of scouting is not an exact science, the scout needs the discipline to accurately report information, and the objectivity to distinguish fact from their own ideas or interpretation.


Wagon trainer

Every wagon train needs a formal leader: someone who is aware of their responsibilities and confident in their abilities.

Sometimes organisations need to complete a process where there is a definite approach, based on having done it successfully elsewhere. For example, installing a new database or opening up a community fundraising operation in a new territory.

Those who have successfully led this kind of change before are best suited to this role; experience is key. To be a wagon trainer, you must be really confident about your approach – staff and volunteers are depending on you!



Sometimes you need a bit of tough love. The sheriff administers ‘the law’ – the systems that are necessary to ensure stability once the wagon train stops.

A sheriff is particularly useful when involved in changing a performance management programme or a restructure. If you need to tackle something difficult you need to be unafraid, but you also need to make sure that all the formal and informal ‘rules’ are followed. If conflict is undermining your organisation, the sheriff will have the confidence to take control and lay down some rules.



The homesteader’s job is to put down roots. After a challenging reorganisation people may feel bruised and awkward. An effective homesteader will have the ability to create stability and provide reassurance. They will often organise social events, for example, to help build team spirit.

Homesteaders have high levels of emotional intelligence – that is an ability to balance empathy with clarity on what’s a good outcome.

Homesteaders are often underrated as change leaders so if you have one, use them – they can keep momentum going.


Medicine man/woman

Occasionally, you have to try a bit of ‘magic’. Medicine men and women are there to inspire.

Sometimes you need to completely reframe a situation to give people confidence. You may want to use a framework such as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, which allows you to think entirely differently about what might be possible in terms of organisational performance.

Key qualities for the medicine man or woman are charisma and self-confidence – you need to inspire confidence with a new and dramatic idea or approach.

But be sure your idea has real traction, and choose the right magic for the situation.


Hired gun

The hired gun approach can be necessary when there are tough things to be done…redundancies or closure of popular programmes.

Key qualities are certainty of purpose and an ability to work in isolation with limited backing. Your hired gun may not win in a popularity contest, but sometimes that’s the deal. This role is often best suited to an external consultant or interim.

If you do want to keep things in house, think very carefully about being the hired gun. It’s a tough job. And the hired gun usually has no friends at the end.


Bernard Ross is director of The Management Centre, which runs change programmes for UK and international charities


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 18, June 2012

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