How to Coach Leaders Through Change

Two women in business attire shake hands in a conference room. One has her back to the camera; the other is facing the camera, smiling, and holding a paper cup of coffee. The photo accompanies a blog post about coaching leaders through change, which provides advice on leadership development and change management.

Every organization experiences some degree of change. It’s a constant in business. This fact makes change management a key capability for leaders. How they lead through change affects their personal, team, and organizational success. It also makes responding to change a key theme in leadership coaching. Hogan practitioners can coach leaders through it by helping them build a repertoire of behavioral skills specific to a context of change.

While change is prevalent, it doesn’t always arise from the same circumstances. Some leaders face mergers or acquisitions, some face role changes, and some face new organizational strategy or culture. When delivering development feedback to a leader, Hogan practitioners need to understand the context. For example, a leader who was hired to address a specific problem and a leader who is part of a high potential program have two distinctly different contexts for development.

The Hogan practitioner’s role is to help leaders build strategic self-awareness about their approach to change management so they can enable their teams to succeed. To explore the best practices for coaching leaders through change, we interviewed three experienced coaches in the Hogan Coaching Network. These experts in personality assessment interpretation and feedback shared insights about how to prep for leadership coaching sessions, tried-and-true techniques for feedback delivery, and how they advise leaders about change management.

How to Prepare for Coaching Through Change

The first step is understanding the leader’s personality assessment data. When interpreting the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) in a change management context, it is important to consider Adjustment and Interpersonal Sensitivity. Adjustment can indicate a leader’s stress tolerance and resilience, while Interpersonal Sensitivity can describe their communication style and approach. A leader with a low Interpersonal Sensitivity score might be oblivious to morale, while one with a high score might avoid necessary conflict. These two HPI scales can also reveal a leader’s socioemotional skills, such as perceiving and influencing others’ emotions or responding to stress with composure. This matters because a leader whose team is undergoing change will need to cope personally while also guiding team members through a similar experience.

Regarding the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), a Hogan practitioner should assess the leader’s broad category of derailers: Moving Away, Moving Against, or Moving Toward. This can indicate whether the leader’s tendency during stress is to withdraw, manipulate or persuade, or seek approval, respectively.

Practitioners should also read assessment results across the HPI, HDS, and the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) to evaluate the leader’s likelihood to embrace change. HPI Prudence and Inquisitive, HDS Skeptical and Cautious, and MVPI Tradition and Security can all suggest how a leader might respond to the need for change. “People don’t resist change as much as they fear their ability to cope with it,” explained HCN Coach Ray Harrison.

In addition to interpreting assessment results through a lens of change, Hogan practitioners should also gather additional data for leadership coaching. Harrison emphasized the need to be explicit about the details of the appointment charter. Other data might include the critical few objectives of the role, identification of what person or group is driving the change, employment history and education, stakeholder analyses, 360-degree interviews, previous performance assessments, employee survey data about culture, leadership and organizational values, and more. Contextual research can be effective for leadership coaching when paired with Hogan Leadership Forecast Series (LFS) results, which provide robust feedback about a leader’s performance capabilities, challenges, and core drivers.

Hogan practitioners should keep the big picture in mind when prepping for a development session. It’s important to encourage leaders because change initiatives are stressful. Emphasize positivity to counteract fears. Help them understand the strengths and skills they already possess to succeed.

How to Deliver Feedback About Leading Through Change

Ideally, the assessment debriefing and developmental coaching should take place over several sessions over several weeks or months. The sessions will likely move through three broad phases: (1) advance data gathering, (2) the Hogan debrief, and (3) leadership coaching. The advance phase with the leader is one or two sessions to get to know them and discuss their expectations for coaching. The debriefing phase might also take place over two sessions, the first to present the data and the second to discuss their response and takeaways. The leadership coaching phase could be six to eight sessions in which the practitioner and the leader build the leader’s development plan and evaluate its implementation.

As in other types of debriefing sessions, a practitioner’s main approach should be asking a lot of open, nonjudgmental questions to elicit self-reflection. What characteristics of your personality do you see as assets? What expectations does your organization hold for you? What is your biggest concern about success? What alignment do you notice between your values and the organization’s values? What do you think the effects of the change will be on your team? How do you tend to feel or respond when . . . ? What surprises you? What resonates with you? What messages are you hearing? What have we not talked about yet?

“In times of massive change, there are dangerous opportunities to grow,” said HCN Coach Brian Chitester. Hogan practitioners can give leaders a behavioral repertoire to help them moderate overused strengths and manage their derailers. Personality data can help identify occasions when leaders might need to act against their inclinations. For instance, a leader with an extremely low Interpersonal Sensitivity score can learn how to balance their direct, candid communication style with sensitivity and active listening skills. Leaders who understand how behavioral change can affect their reputations positively will be most motivated to grow.

Above all, practitioners should start and stay positive. Chitester advised practitioners to help the leader see which characteristics give them natural advantages in achieving their goals.

Change Management Advice for Leaders

Although each leader’s personality is unique, some common pieces of change management advice are likely to apply to leaders in nearly every situation. “Just about every leader is leading through change. Most organizations are trying to change in one way or another,” HCN Coach Betsy Reeder pointed out.

1. Use a change model.

Having a model for change is helpful to keep leaders and teams on track. Leaders should adopt a model and stick with it. While there are numerous effective change frameworks, each of the three HCN coaches separately mentioned Leading Change by John Kotter. Kotter presents an eight-step process for organizational transformation founded on the viewpoint that “only leadership can motivate the actions needed to alter behavior in any significant way.”1

2. Build up the team.

Effective change starts with team alignment and grows from there. Communicating well with the team is necessary throughout every phase of change management. Of particular importance is securing the team’s commitment. Instead of imposing a unilateral decision, leaders should allow team members to participate in decision-making whenever possible. This will increase the team’s sense of ownership and control of the change initiatives.

3. Listen, listen, listen.

Reeder advised leaders to be intentional about listening to and understanding the team. Team members who are heard can become positive change agents within their organizations. Leaders also need to listen to feedback about themselves. Strategic self-awareness is developed through understanding, commitment, and action, a process that relies on listening.

4. Be optimistic.

Everyone handles change differently. Leaders who choose to speak and act with positivity can leverage what makes them successful with confidence. Optimism is catching, after all.


We thank our HCN contributors for sharing their collective decades of experience in using Hogan assessments to help leaders navigate change:

  • Brian Chitester is the president at Chitester Leadership and Executive Development.
  • Ray Harrison is the managing director at Executive TransforMetrics.
  • Elizabeth “Betsy” Reeder is the regional vice president at The Leader’s Edge/Leaders by Design and executive coach at A.J. O’Connor Associates.


  1. Kotter, J. (2012). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press.