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Change Management is Dead: It’s About Change Leadership!

September 2, 2013

li-canada-oecd620-rtxcnul So you think you can manage change?

Good luck.

It’s time that change management proponents lose their hubris and naïve optimism that change can be managed. In reality, it’s about adaptation and learning to sense and distinguish the subtle, meaningful events from the irrelevant transitory ones, and creating a followership towards a shared vision, one driven by a mutual understanding of urgency.

I could never quite grasp the concept of “change management.” How the heck can people “manage” change. It’s actually an arrogant concept, one created by fallible people for fallible people. So let’s abandon this rather silly descriptor and think about how people can lead themselves through change.

There’s no shortage of change. It’s everywhere–all around us. So many events that arise are unexpected, or at least hit us very quickly. Or are all change events unexpected?

Think about the parable of the boiled frog. Place a frog in boiling water and it leaps out of the pot. Place it in cool water and slowly turn up the heat and the frog will succumb to the rising (changing) heat. This is what happens to society on a grand scale. Think climate change.

The problem is that there’s an increasing inter-connected array of events taking place around the world. And as our global economy becomes increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent so, too, do the effects of events that occur 12,000 miles away. An attack on an embassy, a border skirmish or a tsunami can unleash unanticipated ripple effects.

You can’t manage change. You try to anticipate it and then adapt to it. That’s the core competency that each of us needs to develop and continually strengthen. At a collective level, it makes an organization that much stronger to adapt to whitewater events which can capsize the unprepared.

Management guru John Kotter provides a very useful model for leading change efforts. His eight step process, which has been adopted by many organizations and leadership practitioners, encompasses the following steps:

1) Establishing a sense of urgency
2) Creating the guiding coalition
3) Developing a change vision
4) Communicating the vision for buy-in
5) Empowering broad-based action
6) Generating short-term wins
7) Never letting up
8) Incorporating changes into the culture

At the core of Kotter’s model is building change adaptability within an organization and learning how to focus the energy of employees towards a shared vision.

Some “experts” advocate the benefits of predicting hypothetical events through scenario building, a certainly worthwhile endeavor which some companies do very well, such as Shell. However, when it comes to leadership the role of those in executive positions is to prepare their organizations (public, private, non-profit) for the eventual shit-hits-the fan event. It’s about change adaptability, which starts with change leadership. This is why Kotter’s change leadership model is so useful.

Change leadership evokes the critical importance of humbleness as a leader.

Take some time to reflect on events that have occurred at your workplace, where despite senior management’s best efforts things more or less imploded, or bigger events in the political or economic spheres where public leaders proved to have a less commanding grasp on the situation. Humbleness was most likely an absent feature.

What would you have done differently in that situation?

Are you ready to take the plunge to be a change leader?


True effectiveness comes from embracing the reality and thrill of the unknown.

– Kevin Cashman


Intergen ebook cover with TextClick here to download my new complimentary e-book Leadership and the Inter-Generational Divide, 2nd Edition.


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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2013 10:09 am

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    Apprentice Program

  2. September 3, 2013 2:15 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Rodger, and for sharing your book. It looks very interesting.

  3. September 3, 2013 1:26 pm

    Jim, I enjoyed this blog post. For related ideas, see my bestselling book Change-friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance. Rodger Dean Duncan

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