Change and Leadership


Change is nothing new to leaders or to their organizations. Around 500BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted that: “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on.” He was one of the first Western philosophers to address the idea that the universe is in a constant state of flux.

As we move further from the “stable state,” effective change leadership has become a challenging calling. Today in the language of business, organizations, academia, and consultancy, the word “change” has come to mean different things to different people. We need to define “change leadership” in a way that establishes a congruence between leadership and the benefits of the change being implemented; and articulate it properly. Change can refer to any of the following and more:

  • External changes in the market/industry, technology, customers, competitors, social, political and natural environment;
  • Internal changes that determine how the organization reacts and adapts to the external changes at great speed;
  • Top-down programs such as business process reengineering, restructuring, cultural change, for example, and
  • Business transformation programs which can be described as comprehensive organizational initiatives.

It can also be a combination of all the above.

Major change is those situations in which corporate performance requires most people throughout the organization to learn new behaviors and skills. These new skills must add up to a competitive advantage for the enterprise, allowing it to produce better and better performance in shorter and shorter time frames.

Change leadership can be defined as altering groups to the need for changes in the way things are done; mobilizing and energizing groups; and tapping fully into the potential and the capacity of the organization. It involves taking the responsibility to champion the change initiative and effort through building and maintaining commitment and support. The situation determines who emerges as the leader and what style of  leadership he or she has to adopt. The situation will also determine the core skills needed to lead in that particular situation. Therefore, one can no longer discuss leadership in general terms.

The leader and the style of leadership required in a stable organization will differ from that which is required in an organization under threat. This is because leadership styles and behaviors are likely to be critical in times of threats.

The qualities, characteristics, and skills required in a leader are determined to a large extent by the demands of the situation in which he or she is to function as a leader.

In any major change program, there are many leaders because there are many people at many levels in the hierarchy who play different critical roles during the change process, including the CEO. In modern complex organizations, the notion of an ill-seeing, all knowing leader is unrealistic. Instead, different individuals assume leadership in situations where they have a unique competence or accountability. All the non-CEO change leaders are every bit as essential to creating high-performing organizations as are the more visible and dynamic executive leaders. In essence, the change leader could be the CEO, a line leader, internal network, or a change community.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight