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Change Management and Leadership: A Contradiction

There is a lot of buzz about the definition of “change management” and “change leadership”. The debate about the two concepts seems to focus on whether they are one in the same.  I agree with those who claim that “change management is task oriented and focused on managing the process, tools, and techniques [Grady, 2013]”. “Change leadership” on the other hand can be defined as the “ability to anticipate, envision, maintain flexibility and empower others to create strategic change [Warner, 2009]”.  Distinctly different definitions and when it comes to actually implementing organizational change initiatives there seems to be, in my opinion, a contradiction in how a “change leader” should act/be involved. Let me explain.

The change management literature is almost unanimous in supporting the idea that senior leaders need to be involved in change management initiatives. According to the literature, some of the change management tasks requiring direct senior leadership involvement include:

  1. Creating a Change Vision for the organization
  2. Becoming a “champion” or “sponsor” for a specific change project/process
  3. Establishing a change structure or methodology for change initiatives
  4. Modeling the behaviors/actions required by the new change
  5. Soliciting and acting upon feedback from others in the organization
  6. Participating in any necessary training required for the change to be successful
  7. Being sensitive to the “people side” of change and recognizing that not all adopt change at the same time and at the same speed

All of these tasks suggest that the “change leader” needs to be more involved on a daily basis with the change activities being promoted/implemented inside the organization. If so, does this not contradict the definition of “change leadership”?

It is, in my opinion, critical for leaders to understand their strengths when it comes to fulfilling the role of “change manager”.  I find it highly unusual for one to be effective at both leading and managing. It is therefore, important for a leader who is involved in change to:

  1. Fully understand the skills of those who are part of the leadership team
  2. Select the right people to carry out change management tasks
  3. Willingly delegate to those people

While these actions are critical for change success, it is as important for the “change leader”to maintain some visibility during the change process and to continually model the change management vision that has been established.

The “change leadership contradiction” can be managed through maintaining the careful balance of delegation with needed leadership presence during change.