Stories of Change Series

Top 5 Superpowers Every Change Leader Needs

In response to the call for Stories of Change, we received dozens of compelling entries from leaders in business and government. We have reviewed them all and will be sharing the top 5 leadership lessons in the coming months. Check back each month, as we update this page and unveil insights, tips and resources for leaders.

Muse Design awards 2022 Winner Logo surrounded by digital workforce logos

#1: Engage Your Customers AND Your Employees

Improving Customer Experience (CX) is a top priority for all government organizations. However, in an effort to stay focused on customers, a vital stakeholder group is often overlooked – your employees. Effective employee engagement is key to a great customer experience.

Change Leader Superpower #1: Engagement

A Dash of HCD, a Sprinkle of CX and a Healthy Dose of Engagement Makes for Happy Customers!

By Lee Frothingham, Managing Director, Wheelhouse Group

Lee FrothinghamI have been working in the customer experience (CX) field with the federal government since before it had an official title! When I began, we were primarily focused on how to more effectively run call centers. This was, after all, the primary touchpoint for most people to interact with their government.

Watching this field grow and change over my career has been exciting and, frankly, sometimes challenging to understand all it encompasses. Once you dive into this work you tend to see CX everywhere! In every interaction with customers. In most employee communications. In many partner meetings.

So, when I sat down to document our own Wheelhouse Group method and approach with my team, I really wanted to embed all we have learned in our recent journeys with the IRS, Mint, DOJ, DOL, GSA, EPA and DOI.

Designing and delivering successful CX isn’t about managing a checklist but rather, producing a shift in thinking. That’s why I like to focus on the intersection of Human-Centered Design (HCD) documented by IDEO and the employee engagement and organizational change management principles detailed in the Wheelhouse Group book The Method and the Magic: Every Leaders Guide to Making Transformational Change.

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Your Employees Know Great CX. Just Ask Them!

By Lee Frothingham, Managing Director, Wheelhouse Group

Before I joined Wheelhouse Group, I was the Chief Employee Retention Officer for a Fortune 100 health insurance company. My job was to find ways to keep 5,000+ call center employees engaged and fulfilled so that they wouldn’t leave the organization… because the cost of replacing them was about 20% of their annual salary.

What I learned is that employees often quit their job because their great ideas aren’t heard. Year after year, employee survey results showed that our team members didn’t see their feedback or ideas in action. This was especially true in the service we delivered to our customers. So, in employee focus groups across the country, I committed to becoming a content-oriented listener, or someone who hears all the information being presented before forming any sort of judgment. I also asked for big ideas, like “If you had a magic wand, how would you improve the service we deliver to our customers?”

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#2: Invest in Inclusion

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month we are sharing tips and resources on investing in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). It’s not only the right thing for leaders to do, but it also helps more effectively meet agency missions and business’ bottom line.

Change Leader Superpower #2: Inclusion

Why I Invest in Inclusion (and How You Can Too)

Beth McDonaldBy Beth McDonald, President, Wheelhouse Group

One of the first things we as leaders do is decide which key areas we want to invest in within our organizations. We know that where we spend our time and our resources impacts our people, our clients and ultimately our success.

As President of Wheelhouse Group, I knew early on that that I wanted to build an inclusive and welcoming company. Instinctively, I understood that building such a culture would be good for business. And now, 18 years later, I take pride in leading a women-owned business that is majority female and where:

But our company has more work to do, and so do I as a leader. Wheelhouse Group has made a formal commitment to invest in DEIA as a company-wide initiative. I made a personal commitment to learn and build my individual awareness of racial brokenness and systemic injustice so I can recognize and remove additional barriers to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

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Why CIOs Should Invest in an Accessible Government

Mike GiffordGuest Blog by Mike Gifford, Senior Strategist from CivicActions, our Digital Services Coalition Partner

There is growing momentum around inclusion and accessibility in government, and the President himself has made it a key priority through his recent Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Executive Order.

So, what does this mean for government leaders, especially CIOs? It’s time to invest in accessibility — which in turn will help you build more inclusive teams AND future-proof your organization.

Inclusive by design

1 in 4 people in America has a permanent disability — and many more have temporary disabilities — so it is hard to think of any government project that wouldn’t benefit from considering accessibility. From returning Veterans with limited mobility to people who are reading on a smartphone in the sun, everyone should be able to engage with important digital content from their government.

The pandemic has demonstrated how crucial modern digital services are to our economy and daily lives. We cannot assume that people will be able to engage with their governments in person or over the phone. All citizens — of all abilities — need to be able to utilize digital tools to engage.

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#3: Be Authentic

Authenticity is key to creating a workplace environment that responds effectively to change. To motivate and support others, authentic leaders are continually working on themselves. Being authentic sets an example for employees and promotes a healthy space that encourages honesty, vulnerability, and mindfulness. Organizations that do this have proven that they foster better relationships, higher trust, more productivity and a positive work environment. Sound like a place you want to create? This month we provide tips and resources for being an authentic leader.

Change Leader Superpower #3 - Authenticity

What’s the First Step to Being a Great Leader? Be Yourself!

Joiwind RonenBy Joiwind Ronen, Partner and Managing Director, Wheelhouse Group

Over the last 18 months, we’ve all been stretched in new and often uncomfortable ways. As leaders we have struggled with the balance of being authentic and professional in a time of such challenge in our workplaces.

We are also trying hard to support our teams and the people that come to work each day willing to help us reach our shared vision and important organizational goals. We recognize that many of the ways to connect aren’t readily available anymore. Grabbing coffee with a team member, a welcome lunch for a new employee, watercooler catch-ups and hallway conversations have mostly disappeared.

So how do we lead in a way that provides connection and motivation?

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How One IRS Executive Harnesses the Power of Meditation to Meet the Mission

Reprinted from Government Executive Magazine

Anne SheppardInterview with Anne Shepherd, ACIO, IRS by Lee Frothingham, Managing Director, Wheelhouse Group

Anne Shepherd is a problem-solver. As the associate chief information officer for user and network services at the Internal Revenue Service, she has a lot of problems to solve. Her portfolio includes responsibility for the architecture, design, engineering and operations for the IRS enterprise-wide area network, unified VoIP communications and contact center infrastructure, end-user desktop computing services and more. Her team also manages the service desk to solve IT problems for staff.

How does she manage it all? How does her staff? In a word: Meditation.

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#4: Sustain Momentum

We know that change leaders don’t just make a big change at one moment in time, but most changes happen over a period – months, even years, and in phases. And during a change effort, many things shift, including changes in leadership. These shifts, often beyond our control, can cause us to lose momentum. Whether it’s a new administration, new priorities or new leadership, we hope these tips for sustaining momentum will help you succeed.

Change Leader Superpower #4 Momentum

In My Experience: How to Survive and Thrive During Leadership Change

Karen FreemanBy Karen Freeman, former SES and Deputy CIO at the IRS & current Wheelhouse Group Advisor

So, a new leader is coming into your organization. And with that new leader, a new perspective on your work. We as federal careerists are no stranger to this. While we expect leadership turnover during a new administration, if you work for the federal government long enough, this will happen regularly throughout your career. Personally, I experienced 10 top leadership changes during my tenure in the Senior Executive Service (SES). As the Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) at the IRS, I had to balance the delivery of ongoing mandated services and the planning, development, and execution of changing strategic initiatives that aligned with the vision of new leaders.

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How the Best Leaders Maintain Momentum During Times of Change

Janet AndrewsBy Janet Andrews, Wheelhouse Group Executive Coach

Leaders in government and business are all too familiar with that fact that change is constant. However, that awareness doesn’t make keeping up with the pace of change – particularly when you are also trying to implement change – easy. A single factor can cause a slow-down or a milestone miss, whether that factor is organizational, such as a leadership transition, a strategy refresh, or a realignment of priorities; or a shift in some external condition whether political, financial, environmental, societal or technological.

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Janet Andrews and Karen Freeman talk with Joiwind Ronen about tips and tricks for sustaining momentum, including:

  • How the best leaders maintain momentum during times of change
  • What’s it like working with new leaders
  • How to leverage leaders AND existing team to keep project momentum

#5: Master Storytelling

Change Leader Superpower #5 - Storytelling

For Today’s Leaders, Storytelling is a Skill to Master

The Wheelhouse Group Stories of Change initiative kicked off in March 2021 with the goal of hearing your personal stories of big changes—including leading change initiatives at work, mindset shifts, life transitions, and loss. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing the top insights, ahas, and lessons from the stories you shared.

This first takeaway in our countdown is: stories matter.

Stories are for entertainment, for sense-making, for sharing something important about your values or your identity, for teaching a lesson, or simply—and perhaps most importantly—for connecting. In the workplace and beyond, storytelling is a skill to master. Telling someone that you believe “flexibility is important” is never going to be as compelling as sharing a personal anecdote of a time in your life when you had to be flexible or learned to adapt to a difficult situation—and thrived.

There’s brain science to back this observation. Character-driven stories produce oxytocin, the chemical that enhances cooperation and motivates kindness. It’s no surprise that many of the world’s greatest leaders have been exceptional storytellers. And with a few tips and pointers, we can each learn to more effectively use stories as part of our communications repertoire. Whether you’re preparing for an important presentation, leading a big change effort, or simply wanting to strengthen a relationship, it’s time to brush up on your storytelling.

We have a few pointers to help you improve your storytelling.

  1. Know the takeaway.
    Stories are a dynamic, powerful, and indispensable communications tool. As you think about the story you want to tell, get crystal clear on what the takeaway is. Decide in advance the one thing your listener must walk away with, and focus your details around that takeaway.
  2. Consider your audience.
    As you think about who you’ll be sharing your story with, anticipate their questions and expectations. Consider what common experiences you share and what they do not know—and might need more context. Of all the details you could choose to share as you tell your story, think about which will help you best connect with your audience.
  3. Practice makes perfect.
    How you deliver your story — yes, we’re talking presentation skills 101— makes a difference. As you deliver your story, remember to make eye contact, emphasize your key words, vary your tone and pitch, vary your speed and volume. Test your story a few times in front of a mirror or with some trusted colleagues. Ask for feedback, see what resonates and where you can improve your delivery, and adjust accordingly.


Communicating for Impact

Lisa Wolfe shares tips for becoming a better storyteller in this 10-minute video.


  • JD Schramm’s HBR article, A Refresher on Storytelling 101
  • TED’s playlist on How to Tell a Story
  • David Hutchens’ story canvas– a simple tool to help you draft a story
  • Jeff Gothelf’s HBR article, Storytelling Can Make or Break Your Leadership


Story Jam Highlights

View highlights from some of our skilled storytellers, including Anne Shepherd of the IRS, at the May 2021 Public Service Recognition Week event.