Change Agent Tip #9: Leaders Need to Step Up

Sep 04, 2011 5 Comments by

People often ask me the difference between “Change Management” and “Change Leadership”. In my last post, I answered the question with the old axiom: “You manage things and you lead people…”.

I also listed some of the critical things (such as work activities, budgets and schedule dependencies) that Change Agents need to manage. Today I’ll tackle the strikingly different list of elements needed for effective change leadership.

For significant change to be successful, Change Agents are needed at all levels of an organization.  Managing the things of a change project can be done by people at nearly any level as long as the managers are granted authority, resources and access.

But the leaders of people are typically positioned higher in an organizational structure because that’s where full accountability for strategic direction can be found.

The Change Leadership Checklist: Here’s a short list of ways these key players can lead the people engaged in delivering your change:

1. Provide Clear Strategic Direction: Answer questions like:

How does this change support the overall direction of the company?

What broad strategies is it a part of?

 “How will this impact me and my operating unit?

2. Paint a Compelling Vision for the Future: Capture the desired end state in terms that focus people on a worthwhile goal. This vision must represent an improvement over the current state or at least the avoidance of some serious negative impacts.

3. Align the leaders, process owners and representatives of key stakeholder constituencies. Be careful not to assume “everyone is on board” just because they are aware of a pending change or passively participated in a meeting where the change was discussed.

4. Communicate the vision, direction and tactical work priorities in clear terms – then back those words with decisions and actions that are consistent with what’s communicated.

5. Demonstrate their commitment to the change by providing resources to the change effort. Be careful not to pull the rug out from under the change by pulling back resources or bailing on the commitment when times get tough.

6. Inspire the people who look to them for motivation and demonstrate an unwavering belief in the strategic direction. It’s easy to underestimate how much human beings need their leaders to set direction and re-affirm their work.

Get in the Game! Leaders who “get it” when it comes to supporting change, communicating vision and building the kind of relationships that inspire true motivation have a distinct advantage when asking their people to pull together and drive through the potential dip in morale and productivity that can come with adopting a change. Those who struggle in this regard also tend to struggle with delivering fundamental change in their organizations.

Teams tasked with doing the work of executing change can tell the difference between solid change leadership and lip service while field-level stakeholders who are asked to adopt a big change typically follow the demonstrated priorities of their leaders.

The most effective Change Leaders fully embrace their responsibilities. By doing so, they make the work of those managing the change-related activities much more likely to result in success.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. Some say that those in authority positions who fail to build relationships or inspire their staff aren’t really “leading” anyone! Would you agree?
  2. What elements of change leadership can be “delegated” and what elements need to be done specifically by those in the highest positions of authority in an organization?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

5 Responses to “Change Agent Tip #9: Leaders Need to Step Up”

  1. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    Change Leaders need to Step Up! #project #team #leadership #Oracle #CIO #business

  2. Mark Baumbach says:


    Excellent post. I will forward this link to a client with whom I working on a business transformation.


  3. chihos (@chihos) says:

    Thx4 the RT @WendyAppel: Change Agent Tip #9: "Manage Things, Lead People" #leadbiz #leadchange

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