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4 Man Bob.

 Leading at the Speed of Change

This blog helps leaders think about leadership and reach consensus before starting a major change initiative. A critical issue is helping the team to “walk through” the range of relations they will meet managing change, dealing with the practicalities and intricacies of people, departments, factions and geographies. A large part of the task is not just ensuring leaders understand their change environment but  that the organization can continue to learn and act on over time.

Leading Change

Attempts to understand leadership has largely remained a holy grail.  The main problem has been the way people have placed undue emphasis on personality at the cost of the context in which a leader has to work. Leadership is more of a process starting with the top team and building a cohesive and collectively focused group.

The best way to define leadership is by reading many leadership definitions and then gaining consensus for your environment. Remember,

If you can’t define it, you cannot know it. If you don’t know it, you cannot do it. 

Some of the common ideas that others include in leadership definitions include exerting influence, motivating and inspiring, helping others realize their potential, leading by example, selflessness and making a difference. For perspective, here are some common definitions :

Leadership Definitions

The Collins English Dictionary: This dictionary focuses on the position (singular or collective), tenure and ability of leaders. As such, it misses key points about the purpose and hallmarks of effective leadership.

Peter Drucker :

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” To gain followers requires influence (see John Maxwell’s definition below) but doesn’t exclude the lack of integrity in achieving this. Indeed, it can be argued that several of the world’s greatest leaders have lacked integrity and have adopted values that would not be shared by many people today. (Drucker Foundation’s “The Leader of the Future”  

John C Maxwell :

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This moves beyond the position defining the leader, to looking at the leader as an influencer others – both those who would consider themselves followers, and those outside that circle. Indirectly, it also builds in leadership character, since without maintaining integrity and trustworthiness, the ability to influence will disappear. (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell)

Warren Bennis: focuses much more on the personal ability of the leader :

“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester :

“The process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.” The emphasis on respecting their freedom is an important one, and one which must be the hallmark of Christian leadership. Jesus influenced many diverse people during his ministry but compelled no-one to follow Him.”

Recent attempts to survey of leadership literature agree on its vast scale.  From this it is possible to separate out three models:

  • Transactional – to exchange money, jobs and security for compliance
  • Transformational – to encourage others to strive for higher goals
  • Representational – to represent features of the change process/organization to others, often not their direct reports

Despite this insufficient attention is given to:

  • Leadership as a process, and
  • The inter-woven relationship between leadership and context

“Change and flexibility is inherent in most situational leadership models…..but time and processes have been totally neglected…leader behavior is abstracted from their concrete settings and investigated in reductionist terms as if it had no past or future.”(Pettigrew & Whipp, 1987)

As we have learnt since 1987, the unpredictability of the unfolding change process makes the prospect of control remote even illusory.  Assertive action by itself is of limited value and may well be dangerous. Paradoxically, it indicates that the accumulation of more modest preparatory actions is all-important.
This includes assessing the political implications of a given strategy, through problem-sensing and climate setting within the firm.  Leadership in management seems to lie in the ability to shape the process in the longer term and not direct through a single episode.

The problems of leading change relate to managing the processes which encourage evidence-based decisions and tracking their impact.  The main weakness of earlier approaches was the almost messianic search for universal leader behaviors.  Whereas, effective change leadership requires actions appropriate to its context.  In fact there is evidence that solidifying apparently successful leadership behavior into a single mold can become a competitive liability, e.g., Hill Samuel in 1960’s and 1970’s.

Support for the need for variation in leadership comes from the area of technological innovation where “multiple influence procedures” are needed.  Mann defines such effective leadership as:

“Combining different types of leadership influence over time as different needs arise”

This does not mean the three models above are inappropriate for leading change but of limited value.  Instead those alternative types of leadership approaches are better seen as being delayed where and when they best suited the demand.

“Leading change is not a one way relationship emanating solely from the leader. Leaders are themselves affected by the forces which seek they seek to manage”

This simple observation cuts across assumptions made by many writers. They try to show the need for different leadership approaches which actually falls down when they argue for the need to “fit” leadership to company character. Attempts to make such a static, singular fit almost inevitably come undone as both leader and circumstances change.

One of the strongest features of Pettigrew & Whipp’s research is that leading change does not imply one leader.  Great emphasis in those organizations studied focused on:

  • Creating a broader notion of collective leadership at the highest level
  • Inculcating over time a complimentary sense of leadership/responsibility at lower levels

Both are vital for linking strategic and working change. This view is also supported by Art Corbett, US Marines Military Concepts Unit:

Why Mission Command?  Command by Influence

“Mission Command’s preference for decentralized decision making does not demand rigid adherence to any one methodology but by guided principled pragmatism. Essentially, any ethical means that works is viable, Mission Command supports the most advantageous means of command–by direction, by plan or by influence—depending on the situation.

The guiding Mission Command principle in all cases is to give the widest appropriate latitude to subordinate judgment in execution. This is the classic ‘centralized vision and decentralized decision making’ of mission orders. However, in the absence of central direction, Mission Command places on subordinate commanders the additional responsibility for initiating planning, integrating assigned combined arms and capabilities, and the execution of continuing action in accord with commander’s intent. Commanders who have the fortitude to trust and have cultivated a command climate of professional
respect and mutual understanding will be able to reap the full advantages of mission command in both peace and war”..


The critical tasks in leadership when managing change are more incremental often less spectacular than prevailing press images. The most succesful leaders are Radical Gradualists which involves. It involves linking actions of others at every level to the vision, mission and goals of the organization.  Early and bold actions are counterproductive.  More promising is building a climate for change while at the same time laying out new directions, but before precise actions being taken.

The primary conditions for leading change are vital. Bold precipitate leadership are costly without fulfilling the earlier need to build a climate for leading
change while at the same time raising energy levels and setting out the new directions.  The conditions needed are:

  • Building a receptive climate, which involves justifying why the changes should take place
  • Building the ability to mount the change
  • Establishing a change agenda which sets direction, visions and values, which may take several attempts to get it right.

Once in place then more direct mechanisms can be used which means that the skills of leading change therefore centers on coping with the unexpected.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page ask Nick Anderson@The Crispian Advantage

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