Leadership and Organizational Change

During this course, I was introduced to a variety of valuable theories and concepts, as well as case studies, which showed me how leadership and organizational change are interconnected and what approaches should be taken towards them. I would like to reflect on traditional and modern approaches to leadership and discuss how they are influenced by the perception of leadership.

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Out of all early (or traditional) approaches to leadership, it appears to me that the behavior approach was closer to the modern understanding of leadership. Although it had its limitations (it only focused on leader’s behaviors), it stressed the importance of them per se, indicating that leadership studies should have paid more attention to behaviors and actions to understand how leadership is built. Thus, if this approach could expand its view and take followers’ behaviors into consideration as well, it would be a prototype of the transformational leadership as we know it. Nevertheless, I also think that preferring transactional leadership to transformational leadership can be dangerous for the leader, their followers, and the organization itself. Altering values and beliefs can be beneficial sometimes, but leader’s actions might require change as well (even if the leader is not aware of it). Thus, transformational leadership does not divide the team into the chair and the subordinates but rather sees all team members as valuable players that can influence each other’s actions. Furthermore, servant leadership sees the leader as the servant of others, and the concepts of followers and subordinates do not apply to it at all, as it seems.

At the same time, leadership is directly tied to organizational culture and its development. Without the leader, the employees are less likely to be able to implement change (or even agree on what changes are essential). The leader can propose a framework that the team will follow to implement change but only if the leader is also interested in changing organizational culture. Therefore, I believe that organizational change in some of the cultures is more difficult compared to other cultures. For example, leaders are expected to generate social support, explain the changes, discuss the past and compare it to the future during organizational change. Nevertheless, the leaders who are used to work in hierarchy culture might experience difficulties in implementing change because social support and thorough explanation of the changes is not embedded in this type of organizational culture.

Still, I agree that the steps proposed for plotting a change in organizational culture (consensus on the current culture/desired culture, what the changes mean, identification of illustrative stories, etc.) are mostly suitable for all organizational cultures if implemented correctly. The fifth step (develop a strategic action plan) is especially crucial for organizational change. The organization will be able to track down the progress of change implementation and identify what factors (e.g. wins, support, readiness) influence it positively. It seems that among other leadership approaches presented and discussed during the course, transformational leadership is more suitable for changing the organizational culture because it takes leader’s and followers’ opinions into consideration and nurtures understanding and exchange of ideas.

I would also like to point out the significance of ethical reasoning and creative leadership. Some of the leaders fail to recognize how ethical issues can present danger to the organization and do not address the problem until it becomes so big that no satisfactory options remain to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently. If an ethical approach and creative leadership are combined in one person, there is a high chance that this leader will be able to be both courageous and compassionate, expressing support and providing new ideas to their followers. Although creative leadership requires specific features and skills, I think it can be as effective (if not more effective) than transformational leadership but only if it focuses on employees’ needs and thoughts as well. In my opinion, no leader is effective if they cannot be attentive to the suggestions of their followers. At the same time, the current trends (globalization and creativity) make organizations restructure and think and act outside the box. Leaders, followers, and organizations become interdependent, and the leadership style frequently defines the success of an organization.

Different Ways to Implement Change

The change process in an organization can be different: incremental (within the existing framework) or discontinuous (a new strategy or configuration). At the same time, the researchers also distinguish strategic change and grassroots change. While strategic change is more long-term and broad, grassroots change takes place at local levels and normally involves middle-level and supervisory-level managers and front line workers. None of these changes is better than the other; rather, they can be implemented in specific contexts. Still, I believe that strategic change has more potential in organizational change rather than grassroots change because changes in the culture imply that every employee and manager will take part in it and not only middle-level managers and some of the employees.

As Nahavandi et al. (22) point out, organizational change is often driven by managers and leaders only due to the historical organizational structure where hierarchy, policies, rules, and declarations play a significant role in various organizational processes. This way, changes are rarely discussed or doubted. The newer approaches towards organizational change include change through organization development, through management action or reorganization, and through appreciative inquiry. Organization development focuses on process, people, and the improvements in the system and is based on science. Change through reorganization implies restructuring the organization so that the system itself changes, as well as relationships between the organization members. Change through appreciative inquiry (AI) is a co-operative process that focuses on the strengths of an organization and its employees. It consists of four phases: discovery, dream, design, and destiny. The main aim of AI is to focus on the positive sides of change, not fix what is wrong but show how weaknesses can be addressed via collective strengths and approaches from the other side of the problem. It does not engage problem analysis but rather poses questions about the positive core and organization’s positive potential. Specific topic choices also need to be made to move the organization in a particular direction. Depending on the desired change, the topics can vary (people, education, communication, etc. are of utter importance for cultural change).

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The advantage of AI is that it does not focus on negative aspects of change but energizes people to consider other options, seek for means of implementing this positive change, and engage in cooperative learning. Leader’s role in AI is to be the catalyst for positive change; usually, leaders do not work in positive change alone. A team of senior leaders is established to examine and evaluate the positive change, as well as consult with AI consultant. Using AI, organizations understand how negative issues can be transformed into strengths without blaming anyone or focusing on downsides and weaknesses.

Change in Action

Theory of change implementation by various approaches is provided to managers and leaders with a variety of details and suggestions. Still, utilizing AI in practice might not be as smooth as one can expect. The practical use of AI is presented by the X County that describes the change process in detail, stressing the importance of modeling. For example, the X County’s model consists of assessment, building the team, establishing a vision, enhancing innovation, and moving the organization. Assessment is done using questionnaires (OCAI), focus groups, and observations, while key attributes of guiding team members include diversity, power, credibility, and others. I would like to point out that creativity is not mentioned among these attributes, although AI might require creative thinking to build a successful team. At the same time, I also think that self-reflection and individual development should be considered as the key parts of team building. The organizational development would be impossible without individual development, and the team members need to be self-reflective enough to be able to evaluate their own actions and criticize them if necessary. The problem with leaders is that not all of them are capable of deep self-reflection, which can lead to wrong decision-making and crucial mistakes that will influence the whole organization. Thus, the leader or the team need to acknowledge their mistakes if necessary to support the equality among employees and leaders. Here, ethical approach towards leadership would be especially helpful.

One of the key lessons for me was the facilitation of innovation throughout the organization. I assumed that centralized decision-making could be more effective because it was governed by a particular team of professionals. Nevertheless, it is true that centralization would also lead to the lower spread of change (if any) outside the Innovation Lab. If innovation is fostered throughout the organization, it is more likely that not only leaders but also employees will adopt and adjust to the new changes, which will also speed up the decision making process.

When moving the organization toward the change, it is also crucial to empower action by shaping the conversation, engaging appreciative leadership and organizational design. No changes in the organization will be possible unless the leader is attentive to conversational streams in it. Other employees and managers at lowers levels can provide the leader with particular insights that he or she would not be able to obtain him/herself. Thus, conversational streams in the organization become a powerful source of possible innovations, needs, demands, and changes that need to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the company will not be able to implement change successfully because not everyone will feel like a part of this change.

Employees would prefer avoiding uncertainties if possible, which is why it is the leader’s responsibility to share vision and mission of the change and reduce possible resistance to change. Sharing information with employees and encouraging leadership initiatives is what might be considered useful during organizational change. I believe the leader should ask him/herself whether he/she would like to receive information and detailed explanations if she/he were an employee (a follower) of the company. In my opinion, the leader needs to understand their followers’ needs and demands to be efficient and successful. At the same time, employees have the right to know why a change is needed and how it will be implemented.

Individual management skills also should not be neglected when implementing change or innovation. Any leader or manager needs to be ready to evaluate and criticize their own skills to ensure effective managerial leadership. A competent manager should consider the culture type of his/her organization and develop the appropriate skills that focus either on flexibility or stability, internal or external focus. As it can be seen, change implementation requires leaders to consider various factors, including employees’ ideas and demands, culture type, relationships with internal and external actors, etc.

Conclusion

To implement organizational change successfully, leaders need to review a variety of factors that can either foster or slow down the innovation process. Organizational change and leadership style are intertwined. Organizational culture can present both opportunities and challenges to the desired organizational change. An efficient leader should view his/her followers as equal partners in change implementation; exchange of ideas and suggestions should be fostered as well. If the leader wants to make his/her employees less reluctant to change, he/she should explain them the aim of the change, the vision, and the mission behind it. Otherwise, it is likely that employees will struggle to find any benefits in the discussed change, which can negatively influence its implementation (or even interfere with it). I believe that these materials have shown me how theory and practice can be combined in leadership and organizational change and how interdependent leadership, internal relationships, culture, and leader-employee communication can be.

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