Understanding the distinction between change management and change leadership

Understanding the distinction between change management and change leadership

The world as we know it is fundamentally changing…. Does the way we manage that change need to change also?! We need to make the larger leaps at faster speeds in order to remain relevant, competitive, effective…

We talk so much about change management, but should we really be talking about change leadership?

According to John Kotter, who quite often discusses this topic, change leadership is associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, making change efforts faster, smarter, and more efficient. The need for this approach is more critical on large-scale change efforts.  A traditional change management approach is suggested to be more appropriate for smaller changes.

Everyone talks about managing change because that’s what we know. The change management tools we generally have at our disposal are designed to move things along and minimise disruptions, using strong principles of project management. The principle here is to progress the change whilst keeping it under control.

Change leadership is fundamentally different to change management; these concepts are neither synonymous nor interchangeable. Change leadership is about urgency, masses of people that want to make things happen, having a big vision, and empowering lots of people to achieve shared goals and objectives.

Good change leadership has the potential to allow things to creep a little bit out of control… And often despite our best efforts, changes can drive a certain level of disruption and chaos. So having the knowledge, skill and capability to lead in such a changing environment becomes critical. Traditional change management tools may not always resolve such situations…

Really here we are talking about the people elements of change. We can implement organisational changes, putting fantastic plans and structures in places, but there will always be some elements of change that are not entirely predictable and cannot necessarily be controlled or managed by good planning. This does not make structure and planning redundant, it simply means we need a much larger and more diverse range of tools in our kit to ensure effective change management practice.

What would be disappointing is if we were to adopt a philosophy that change leadership is better than change management, and that you only do one or the other. It seems to be the case that as with any general management and leadership capabilities, you really need to have both in order to be effective. The same applies here.

If you are a change manager, or a manager or leader involved in implementing change, you should ensure you have the capacity to put the right plans and structures in place to facilitate change, but also focus on building the leadership capabilities required to support people to understand the need for change, to feel comfortable about change, and ultimately to adopt that change in practice.

For more information on how to lead employees through change please contact us on 07 3003 1473 (Australia) or email change@iadapte.com.

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