Leadership During Change

Now more than ever, leadership is crucial for organisations to not just keep up, but to innovate in order to survive and move forward. Without strong leaders, there may not be anything left for managers to manage.

In her book, The Art and Science of Leadership, Afsaneh Nahavandi contends that the process of management is essentially concerned with achieving stability. On the other hand, she sees leadership as mainly being concerned with bringing about change.

Nahavandi defines managers as those who:

 Focus on the present

✓ Maintain the status quo and stability

✓ Implement policies and procedures

✓ Remain aloof to maintain objectivity

✓ Use the power of their position

On the other hand, she defines leaders as those who:

✓ Focus on the future

✓ Create change

✓ Create a culture based on shared values

✓ Establish an emotional link with followers

✓ Use personal power

In today’s business climate, organisations may have separate leaders and managers – or one person may serve both functions. In either case, it is crucial that an organisation’s leadership as a whole (managers and/or leaders) utilises the best practices available today. These practices have evolved in alignment with the organizational development field over the past half-century.

Some guidelines that leadership could follow are:

Keep an open mind. Sure, there’s the set goal of doubling the revenue in three years and the initial strategy to get there, but ACME Corp.’s leadership should be aware that there are factors that can’t be controlled, e.g. an economic downturn or brand new digital platforms. They should also be open to new ideas (including ones from their own teams!) and incorporate them into an altered strategy, if suitable. Accordingly, learn to pick your battles – while it is imperative to hold firmly to non-negotiable outcomes (the main goal), leaders should also be flexible with other scenarios (e.g. adjusting short term motivational targets).

Stay engaged – If you could just put a plan in place and it worked, then most leaders would be out of a job! Leadership needs to be present and alert – are the new methods working? Are the short-term goals realistic and motivational? They should also have their eyes and ears open to encourage positive feedback loops and get to the source of and mitigate any grumblings quickly.

Think in “systems terms” – as new ways of doing things are introduced, watch for any changes and balance systems to make sure the dynamics are moving towards the desired direction. For example, if staff is still taking too long to complete their tasks using new technology, perhaps some time needs to be spent on retraining.

As mentioned throughout this white paper series, communication is key! Make sure the entire leadership team knows the goals inside-out, and the same message (e.g. a new motto referring to the company goal as “Twice In Three!”) is communicated to all teams consistently and repeatedly.

In this era of rapidly evolving business innovation and change that is punctuated by business digitization, it more important than ever for leaders to understand and apply the principles of both the Planned and the Emergent Change approach. A 2014 study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40 percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist in 10 years! Leaders and managers who best adjust to continuous change will be better positioned to avoid this fate.


Excerpt from Planned & Emergent Change: Adversaries Or Allies? Part III – Leadership During Emergent Change White Paper by Robin Hysick, Organisational Development Advisor Pink Elephant