Essential to successful change is successful change leadership. Change leadership speaks to a role that can span multiple levels within an organization from executive management and change sponsorship to personal leadership among individual employees. There is a certain optimism and energy fueling change leadership. It is transformational. It is encompassing. It requires persistence, commitment and a great deal of emotional fortitude. Change leadership is also a frequent subject of conversation among change professionals and their clients. Here is what some leading thinkers have to say about being an effective change leader.
“Regarding the actual change process, working with (co-creating) means not trying to stamp out problems — those ‘negative’ outside influences that were not planned for, but instead, letting those forces influence your plan and direction. Where a command and control leader will try to eradicate problems so his or her rigid plan can continue, a co-creative leader will ‘listen to the messages’ embedded in problems to discover if course corrections are necessary. A co-creative leader assumes variance will occur and perceives problems as ‘gifts’ revealing needed course correction so they can achieve the best result. Where change leaders operating in a command and control orientation often miss wake-up calls for alteration and march down paths doomed for failure, co-creative change leaders hear these wake-up calls and engage with employees to figure out how to handle them successfully (i.e., they co-create solutions).”
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 2013. What Inexperienced Leaders Get Wrong (Hint: Management)
“Much has been made of the distinction between leadership and management. Too many managers, not enough leaders, the critics say. Leadership is uplifting, they imply, while management is boring — just a bunch of rigid bureaucrats spinning red tape, or emphasizing efficiency over effectiveness. But my work with numerous top executives shows that this is a false choice. Great leaders also have managerial inclinations. They are practical as well as visionary. They care about efficiency. They might not be the ones to roll up their sleeves for the tasks of execution, but they know what to ask of those who do. These abilities grow with experience.”
McKinsey & Company, “Real Change Leaders“
“Real change leaders are seldom found in executive suites. Though top-level involvement is essential to organizational change, the real change leaders (RCLs) who affect how the majority of people perform come from the ranks of middle and frontline managers. A recent study of nearly 150 mid-level change leaders in 29 different change efforts explored what makes RCLs stand out from traditional middle managers, and what top management can do to ensure a critical mass of this emerging new leadership capacity. . . .
The most difficult aspect of major change has little to do with getting the right concept, core process redesign, or even a team at the top. It lies in changing the people system–the skills and behavior of hundreds of employees down the line. And it relies on the ability and attitudes of mid-level and frontline managers.”
“A great deal has been written about the impact leadership can have on employees’ decision to change or not to change. And leaders have had too many experiences with failed changes not to be sensitive to this reality today. They often, however, encounter three main problems:
- They can’t imagine why anyone would resist
- They don’t know when they are not being good leaders of change
- They don’t know what to do to be a good leader of change
Leaders need to not only be effective business leaders, but effective change leaders as well. Undoubtedly, it takes a concentrated effort to be a good sponsor of change. It is a skill to be learned. The single most important lesson to remember is that resistance to change makes sense from the perspective of the individual who is impacted. The ability to see the change from that perspective is key to good change leadership.”
David Buchanan, 2008, “Power, Politics and Organisational Change: Winning the Turf Game“
“It’s become fashionable to become a transformational leader and that phrase has a certain cachet. There is a literature behind it and a lot of evidence — and a lot of that is American, although it is a concept that has been imported here into the UK. And that concept of transformational leadership — as indeed leadership in a wider sense — is usually described in apolitical terms. This is a purely a (sic) technical exercise, or it’s to do with personality, charisma, competence, communication skill. Politics don’t come into this. I don’t think that is necessarily the case because transformational leadership, being the political entrepreneur, the ideas person, the innovator, getting ideas accepted, getting them through the organisation, that requires a high degree of sophisticated political skill. Good ideas very rarely sell themselves on their own merit — they have to be actively sold.”