Change agent archetypes

Change agent archetypes

Who you really are

The work of the change agent is not to become more like what others think of when they think change agent. It is not to become more like those we or society most admire. It is not for us all to think the same way, do the same thing, or strive toward the same goals. It is not to become someone or something different.

The work of the change agent is to know and be who they really are. In other words, the most impactful change agents focus their energies where they are uniquely positioned to enact change. They use the sharpest tools in their toolbox. They play the roles in which they truly thrive. They grapple with the challenges over which they have particular influence or insight. 

The most impactful change agents understand that they cannot be everything to everyone. They know exactly what their role in change is and they focus on it like a laser beam.

An ecosystem

Imagine a thriving, beautiful old-growth forest teeming with life. There is no one individual or species that leads it. There is no one element that defines it. The forest is a confluence of plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, and more, each offering something new, unique, and vital. What makes the forest so beautiful and rich is how these diverse elements balance and complement one another. Together, and only together, they transform into something more dynamic and resilient than the sum of its parts. They become the forest.

Change is like that forest. It is an ecosystem that relies on many disparate, often contrasting or even competing, actors each doing what they do best, each being who they really are, each balancing and complementing the other. 

A bear cannot be an eagle. An eagle cannot be a tree. And a tree cannot be the forest. As change agents, we must continually remind ourselves that we are just one small piece in the beautiful mess of it all. We play our roles, admire and appreciate others playing theirs, and watch in wonder as change emerges and unfolds before our eyes.

The archetypes

Everyone has a unique role to play in the ecosystem of change. However, the types of roles change agents often play can be distilled down into a handful of archetypes, just as the forest can be divided by biological kingdoms or species. These general categories of change agent roles can help us begin to identify our specific contributions to change so that we can focus our energies accordingly. 

Some common change agent archetypes include:

  1. Activist: The activist strategizes, organizes, and disrupts on the front lines. 
  2. Analyst: The analyst builds knowledge of critical challenges and solutions.
  3. Artist: The artist inspires creativity and awakens new perspectives
  4. Communicator: The communicator raises awareness of challenges, risks, and opportunities. 
  5. Connector: The connector grows personal relationships and networks among change agents. 
  6. Conservator: The conservator protects and maintains the existing aspects of the world that serve us. 
  7. Entrepreneur: The entrepreneur creates and builds new organizations. 
  8. Healer: The healer works with and holds space for physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. 
  9. Intrapreneur: The intrapreneur builds new initiatives or paradigms within existing organizations.
  10. Satirist: The satirist exposes the shortcomings, inconsistencies, and ironies of existing paradigms. 
  11. Sage: The sage teaches us presence and connects us to the wisdom of the universe. 
  12. Visionary: The visionary dreams up new paradigms for a better world.

This is not an exhaustive or definitive list. There are many more archetypes we could list here. In fact, it may be more powerful for you to define your own archetype that distills what you see as your particular role in change. Or you might look at the additional change agent taxonomies listed at the bottom of this lesson. 

What matters most is that we each acknowledge that there are many different roles in the ecosystem of change, all essential, none more important than the other. It’s incumbent on each of us to find the roles that most resonate with who we really are.

Letting go

The world today is often chaotic and overwhelming. With the internet and social media, there is a near limitless amount of news to absorb, skills to learn, challenges to address, and opportunities to seize. It would be quite literally impossible to do it all. 

And yet, many of us still try. 

Identifying your change agent archetypes can certainly help you discover and fulfill your unique roles in change. But it is perhaps even more important in defining what you will not focus on. We might identify closely with one, two, or maybe even three of these archetypes. But we cannot be them all. We cannot be the forest.

When we think about deepening our change agent practice, many of us immediately start imagining and become overwhelmed by all the new roles and responsibilities we need to take on. But often, the single most powerful and necessary thing any of us can do is to let go of all the roles, responsibilities, and challenges that aren’t ours to take on. By letting go, we afford ourselves the energy and space needed to make our greatest contributions. By letting go, we let ourselves be who we really are.

Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the Executive Director of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, two sons, and cat. Learn more about Peter's store here.

1 thought on “Change agent archetypes”

  1. Peter this may be a breakthru useful in two topics:
    1) You may have spelled out the next level of distinctions in the demographic called Cultural Creatives. Contact me if you wish conversation on this. Your list could support more people claiming-waking-up to their own Cultural Creative preference.

    2) The field of MBTI. If new to you, the best orientation is On first glance, these categories sound very resonant with the 16 patterns of personal reference and may divide easily into the four major categories. This would be win-win for you and MBTI.

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