Unlike change management, change leadership is a proactive approach to creating and mastering change. To master change, leaders have to design it, set its objectives, develop a workable strategy, and take charge of the process, defeating resistance to change while supporting ongoing business.

Change Leadership Means to Design, Champion, and Master Change

To understand change leadership, we have to look at it through the prism of the differences between it and change management.

Change management is the process of keeping change under control as it unfolds, minimizing its negative consequences.

Change leadership, on the other hand, comprises vision, purpose, design, strategy, and control, to envision, trigger, and facilitate positive change on a large scale. In some ways, change management is reactive, while change leadership is proactive, requiring true mastery.

Change leadership is the art of mastering change. 

The modern paradigm of leadership focuses on ever-accelerating change and the ability to manage its challenges. We can, therefore, safely state that change leadership is yet another essential competency in the context of intelligent leadership.

From the perspective of leadership development, it makes sense to deconstruct the complex concept of change leadership, to take a structured look at its components. In this respect, in my book “Intelligent Leadership,” I have defined three stages/components of change leadership:

  • Initiating, championing, and designing change
  • Developing a strategy to handle change
  • Taking charge of change

Designing and Championing Change

This is, perhaps, the most proactive component of change leadership. It includes the envisioning of the desired results of change, the planning of the transition from the current stage to the desired one, and the accurate assessment of the current situation as the starting point for change.

While it would make logical sense to start with the assessment of the current situation, it would be the wrong approach, as it would create small, potentially insignificant results.

Instead, the best change leaders start by envisioning and designing the results they would like to see. They then work their way back to the current situation to design a workable, achievable transition plan.

Throughout the process, leaders have to actively work to reduce resistance while being ready to course-correct as the circumstances may dictate. Perhaps the most difficult part of pushing through change is to maintain and support ongoing business in parallel with the transition process.

Developing a Strategy for Change

To successfully usher in meaningful change, leaders need to make sure that they have a clear vision and a plan. In addition to these two variables, there has to be a desire for change within the organization coupled with an equally acute dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Strategy lends a practical dimension to a vision. 

If these variables are all in place, and together they trump the inevitable resistance to change, then the leader is ready to set the wheels in motion.

One’s strategy for change should reflect these variables, fully aware that the lack of any one of them will render successful changes difficult to impossible to attain.

Taking Charge of the Change Process

To take charge of the process, the intelligent leader has to become a champion of change. Change always draws resistance, often in direct proportion with the desire to effect it.

To be a champion of change, the leader has to anticipate and head off resistance throughout the process.

  • When assessing the current situation, the leader must communicate the need for change effectively, securing grassroots support.
  • To defeat resistance, the leader has to communicate the vision/purpose of the change often and clearly.
  • Creating a clear, actionable plan of transition is essential for lending the effort a practical direction.
  • Throughout the transition process, the leader has to monitor resistance and act against it when required.
  • To successfully effect change, it is not enough to fulfill the vision. Leaders need to work toward anchoring the change, making it part of the routine operation of their organization and its culture.

Take a look at my Wheel of Intelligent Leadership to map your leadership style and learn how different competencies relate to one another.

For more information about “Intelligent Leadership,” or if you are interested in applying the tenets of leadership development within your organization, I invite you to check out my books as well as my speaking and coaching services.


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