Lesson in Leadership

Change Management and Leadership Development Have to Mesh

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Ryan W. Quinn and Robert E. Quinn


Leadership development and change management tend to be top priorities for many organizations. In spite of this, a majority of organizations tend to fall far short of their goals for both. One major reason organizations struggle is because they treat both leadership development and change management as separate rather than interrelated challenges. Cultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed.

For better results, organizations should coordinate their leadership development and change management efforts, approaching them as one and the same. True leadership involves deviating from cultural expectations in ways that inspire others to choose to follow. What’s more, leadership is not the sole responsibility of the C-suite. Managers at all levels of an organization must overcome resistance if genuine cultural change is to occur. Thus, change initiatives—which require a deviation from a dominant set of norms and behaviors—are the best learning environments for star managers to develop leadership skills, as well as a necessary component of a successful culture-change initiative.

How then, should organizations go about integrating their change management and leadership development initiatives? We recommend an approach that is both top-down and bottom-up.

The bottom-up part of the integrated development and change process requires potential leaders throughout the organization to engage in a process of learning how to enact a desired change in an organization’s culture in the everyday experiences of organizational life. For example, one company suddenly found itself audited at the request of their largest client and were told that they needed to change their accounting procedures. In response, many employees insisted that the changes could not be made by the demanded deadline. They were impeded by cultural beliefs around how quickly the organization could mobilize and complete complex tasks. Janet, a member of the task force assigned to handle the requirements of the audit, was participating in leadership development training at the time.

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