Leadership Role in Change Management


The dynamic nature of the contemporary society has resulted in diverse changes in the organizational set up (Anonymous n d). The economy is characterized by fluctuating demand and supply, constantly changing consumer needs, and advancement in technology and service provision. This has prompted organizations to undergo intensive structural changes in order to remain at par with the contemporary expectations. Change in organization has become a norm in the society today (Anonymous n d). Major change efforts have assisted various organizations to adapt significantly to shifting conditions in the global environment consequently promoting their competitive advantage.

In some situations, the outcome has been very rewarding while in other organizations the outcome has been disappointing and companies have ended up wasting substantial resources, frustrating both their customers and employees and this has resulted in overall business failure. To some extent, the limitations of change are inevitable since forcing people to adjust to certain shifting conditions will always be associated with resistance. In addition, the dynamic nature of the current environment makes it difficult for change leaders to predict future outcomes. This may result in substantial failures in organization’s performance as well as decay.

Research has confirmed that a leader’s style and approach plays a significant role in organizational change (Orridge 2009). Numerous organizations in the modern economy have experienced business failure, which has been attributed to failure in management. In order to understand the role of human aspect in organizational change, we have to analyze the nature of change that takes place within organizations, the forces behind these changes, and the importance of maintaining these changes in the long run.

Human aspects of change are complex and most difficult to manage. Therefore, we need to address the role of responsible leaders in managing this complex yet highly flexible and adaptable entity to cope with change in such a way that they promote organization’s long-term survival. The leaders of the 21st century have to deal with changing expectations of modern organization as well as the conduct of their employees, increased global competition, and the advent of an information age that has not only promoted knowledge among the population but has also reduced the world into one global village (Anonymous n d)

Responsible Leadership in Organizational Change

A considerable number of companies in the world have reported huge business failures or filed bankruptcy as a result of poor leadership (Orridge 2009). These failures can largely be attributed to irresponsible leadership prevalent in these organizations. Organization leadership plays an important role in management of change in the organization. The leaders should be in a position to influence the process and outcomes of change (Cook 2004).

Traditional leadership context involved setting of the objectives, defining the procedures, and monitoring of the change process (Cook 2004). However, in the modern setting, the leaders play a more active role in the process of change implementation by inspiring fellow employees, role modelling, and providing advisory services in order to promote good performance (Cook 2004).

The modern leaders focus on the long term objectives and device mechanisms to achieve these objectives. They strive to be change leaders. Change leaders should possess the four most important qualities of effective change leadership according to the change compass (Cook 2004). The four intellects comprise of business intelligence, political intelligence, spiritual as well as emotional intelligence. These intellects hold equal weight and absence of either of the intellects amounts to disequilibrium.

Culture and cultural expectations heavily influence the perceptions of responsible leadership and the enactment of responsible leadership in different organizational contexts (Orridge 2009). Consequently, the concept of responsible leadership needs to address the framework in which responsible leadership happens and the way in which responsible leadership is enacted within various organizations. Culture entails perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviours commonly held by a distinctive group of people.

Culture is an inherent part of every organization, department, function or discipline and the interactions of these subcultures lead to the emergence of a cross culture, which may be independent of each other or even counter active. Therefore, the conception of responsible leadership, its enactment and control varies across different kinds of culture at organizational level where leaders are confronted in their daily work with multiple cultures and a dynamic interplay of different cultures (Doh 2005).

For instance, an organization that upholds a culture of vertical commands would embrace a leader who simply issues commands and sits back to oversee the implementation while an organization that upholds involvement of workers in decision making would embrace a leader who promotes team work and actively participates in the change implementation process.

In general terms, leaders are considered responsible when acting in line with the best interests of the company investors and shareholders. In leadership responsibility, the issue of accountability and corporate governance often arises whereby leaders have to justify their behaviour and its consequences for their own conscience. Organizational and corporate leaders are responsible for the resources entrusted to them and their actions towards those people who have entrusted them with the resources.

To facilitate successful change in the organization, the leaders should limit the level of complacency in the organization (Kotter 1996). Leading change requires establishment of high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers as well as the employees. Kotter (1996) illustrates a situation where allowing too much complacency leads to detrimental effects to the company. Adrien, head of a specialty chemicals division of a large corporation decides to introduce change in the organization resulting in the forces of globalization.

In order to promote change in the organization, he launches numerous initiatives to build business and margins in an increasingly competitive market. He utilizes such methods as inducement, threats and in some cases termination to force the employees to act accordingly. Few years down the line, his initiatives sinks, one after the other in a sea of complacency and Adrean gives up his employees for a smaller firm that is already successfully implementing many of his ideas. His failures can be attributed to lack to create sufficient urgency at the beginning of business transformation.

Leaders in some cases over estimate the extent to which they can force big changes on an organization which requires reconstruction of the status quo. Low complacency on the other hand would serve to minimize this short coming. A responsible leader should be an active supporter of the major transformation about to take place in the organization (Kotter 1996). A successful transformation does not only involve the decisions of the senior members in the organization, but also incorporates the proposals of employees and other relevant stakeholders.

The leadership should establish a committee pulled from the pool of members from the members who are committed to improved performance of the company to oversee the implementation of the strategies for change. An individual leader, no matter how charismatic and competent he may be, requires sufficient back up from fellow staff members in order to implement change in the organization. Kotter (1996) observes that no matter how capable the leaders are guiding coalitions without strong line leadership is not likely to achieve the power that is required to overcome what are often massive sources of inertia.

A responsible leader should not underestimate the power of vision in change implementation (Kotter 1996). Vision plays an important role in the in directing change since it directs, aligns and inspires action to a large number of people; lack of a governing vision amounts in confusing, incompatible and time consuming projects that go in the wrong direction and often lead to massive loss. Further, the leader should communicate the vision to all the relevant stakeholders. The contribution of fellow employees is vital in implementation of changes in the organization.

Organizational Change

An organization comprises of people who are constantly trying to influence others to achieve certain pre determined objectives through manipulation of various processes, technologies, structures as well as cultures (Anonymous n d). Since the activities carried out in an organization demands constant human interaction, management and coordination of these interactions is essential for effective performance of the organization. Forces that operate to generate change in organizations are numerous and varied (Anonymous n d).

Modern organizations are often characterized by constant leadership changes, growth and expansion, introduction of new products due to consumers’ changing needs, technological advancements, increased competition, and changing political and legislation climate among other changes. The organizations response to the changing economic, social and political environment consequently triggers organizational change. Mills (2008) defines organizational change as the alteration of core aspects of an organization’s operations which constitutes changes in organizational structure, technology, culture, leadership, goal or personnel of the organization.

His definition highlights the level of differences that substantially impacts on people’s perception of the organization as well as impact of these changes on job description and style of work. Organizations in the contemporary settings are continually changing despite opposition from various stakeholders who seek to maintain the status quo (Kuriger 2004). These changes may be planned strategically in order to achieve pre determined set of objectives. In other cases, unplanned changes may occur such as loss of market or sudden loss of key personnel forcing the organization to undergo change.

Various theories have been formulated to explain organization change that continues to take place in the modern society. The Industrial revolution led to the formulation of machine theory which was based on the premise of the human aspect as a machine (Kuriger 2004). Effectiveness of this theory was registered in situations where specialization and standardization was upheld but it ignored the organization’s interface with the environment as well as the semi formal and informal structures within the organization. The machine theories simplified the description of the work organization consequently dehumanizing the role of the worker within the organization (Clegg 1980).

In practice however, the worker play a crucial and perhaps the most important role in the organization structure. The short coming of this theory in its view of organizational dynamics led to the emergence of a view that considered organizations as open systems which are in contact with the environment surrounding them (Kuriger 2004). The open systems theories create a provision for humanness of the organizational workers. An open theory must change in order to maintain a steady state with the dynamic economic, political and social environment. Failure to change in order to conform to the changes taking place in the environment will result to less energy from the environment and entropy will set in (Kuriger 2004).

Organizations change in order to survive in the modern competitive environment. The target of change in the organization is influencing the entire system rather than individual members. However, individual actors are the instruments used in generating organizational change. Responsible leaders should ensure that organizational change promotes the organization’s objectives since the organization, just like in human behaviour will tend to resist change that is not beneficial to it.

The leaders should seek to properly manage the process of change within organizations and should also avoid the assumption that successful change process in one section of the organization can be easily duplicated to other parts of the organization. Numerous organizations have been forced to incur transformational changes in the wake of an information age that is characterized by advanced technology in communication as well as operations. These organizations have changed in dramatic ways through the assistance of the same technological advances. Modernization has rendered the past organizational strategies ineffective due to emergence of an environment that is characterized by new form of competition as well as new technology.

Information technology has promoted efficient communication and eased the process of sharing information. It is therefore important for change leaders to ensure that their organizations are restructured accordingly. Further, in order for the organization to reach higher levels of performance, the leaders must establish a motivational system which supports individual and group performance and also nurtures the employees’ self respect and pride. This will result in development of a committed workforce that can work together towards the objectives of the company.

Sustainability of Organizational Change

Managing change is acknowledged as one of the most important and difficult issue facing the contemporary organizations (Buchanan 2007). Scholars have invested a lot of time in formulating theories that attempt to explain management of organizational change. Fredrick Taylor, the originator of scientific management, offered the earliest systematic approach to the process of changing an organization in 1930s (Buchanan 2007). However, theory received a lot of criticisms with some scholars observing that he had addressed only one dimension view of human nature as well as over emphasizing on the role of individuals in organizational change management.

In 1940s, Kurt Lewin created perhaps the most influential approach to management of change through his three step model. In the 1980s, the nature of change transformed and became more rapid and dramatic. In his model, Lewin argued that successful change in organizations should incorporate unfreezing of the status quo, movement towards a new state and refreezing of the new change to make it permanent (Buchanan 2007). This prompted organizations to adopt newer approaches that embrace change sustainability as the eventual outcome of the change process.

The modern view of change did not necessarily conceptualize it as clean, linear and finite. Instead, most people view change as messy, contentious, context dependent and open-ended (Buchanan 2007). It is therefore impossible to conceive of an approach which is suitable for different types of change, different types of contexts as well as different types of organizations. In fact, Kurt Lewin observed that organizational change is held in equilibrium by two opposing sets of forces; the driving force and the restraining force.

The equilibrium condition is presented by the status quo and the driving force which incorporates the change leaders has to encounter great challenges in convincing the restraining force on the importance of change implementation. Disruption of the status quo is in itself problematic to the activities of the organization and the leadership has to face a lot of challenges not only in introducing change but also in ensuring sustainability of change in the long run.

Sustainability refers to the ability of a company to maintain the new working methods, performance enhancements and continuous improvements in the long run. In absence of sustainability, decay is bound to occur (Buchanan 2007). Some scholars have argued that containment and sustainability of change in an organization is reliant on a combination of contextual, organizational, political and temporal factors as well as the substance of the changes under consideration. However, business leadership is the most influential element in the determination of change sustainability in any organization.

Numerous responsible business leaders in modern organizations are rising up to take a stand for sustainable practices in their organizations and the community at large. These leaders utilize their organizational development skills, entrepreneurial spirit and leadership abilities to drive organizations not only towards change but also towards sustainability of change in the long run. Since sustainability should be intrinsic to the company’s vision of change, these leaders should embrace a long term commitments to change implementation in order to promote sustainability of change among fellow employees.

The processes relating to sustainability are dynamic rather than static and organizations striving to achieve sustainability need to reflect this dynamism in change implementation. As observed earlier, the culture of an organization plays a major role in influencing change implementation adaptations and this further translates to sustainability measures.

If organizational leaders promote the perception that change is supposed to be short term, the employees will react accordingly and this may negatively impact on the organization. Responsible leadership therefore plays an important role in creating a culture that promotes change adaptation as well as sustainability of change. A responsible leader should lead his team through change and emphasize to them that change is an organic and ongoing process that is unending in order to establish a culture that upholds sustainability of change in the organization.

Leadership for sustainability further entails standing up for beliefs, challenging norms, and what is right through provision of inspiration and demonstration of the importance of change and sustainability among fellow workers in the organization. Maintaining progress in the process of change implementation is the most important element of organizational change and the key to successful sustainability.

Buchanan (2007) illustrates the importance of consistency in organizational change as the long term objective of change by outlining the challenges encountered by The NHS plan In England. The plan was launched in July 2000 as a ten year programme of radical reform in the health sector which had failed in keeping pace with social changes. This plan is among the largest organizational development programme ever undertaken and therefore provides us with a valuable tool of change analysis.

As the NHS modernization agency staff shared experiences on development and progress achieved across the region, difficulty in change sustainability was quickly emerging. For instance, although the organization was able to reduce queuing hours for patients, the hospitals experienced difficulties in trying to maintain or improve their service level. This was referred to as the improvement evaporation effect. In other cases, while one clinical service had developed an effective way of reducing waiting time, other services provided in the health care institutions did not apply these methods.

The outcome of change process varied across regions but difficulties in sustainability frustrated the leadership efforts across regions as well as the national agency staff. The reason why performance fell back to the initial levels in some organizations may be attributed to irresponsible leadership which failed to promote sustainability measures among the stakeholders. However, other structural, political and functional factors may have played a substantial role in diminishing the efforts of NHS plan towards service improvement.


Organization change is inevitable in the modern economic setting. Numerous forces acting within the environment force organizations to undergo planned or unplanned change. Therefore, it is the duty of organizational leadership to manage the process of change implementation. As we have observed in the study, change implementation is ineffective without implementation of sustainability measures. The leaders should therefore emphasize on sustainability measures in order to promote successful outcomes in the long run. Since the leaders play a vital role in organizational change, organizations should seek to employ leaders who possess qualities of responsible change leaders in order to survive the current competitive age.

Reference List

Anonymous, not dated. Organizations and Their Changing Environment. [Online] Web.

Buchanan, D. A., 2007. The Sustainability and Spread of Organizational Change: Modernizing Health Care. New York, Taylor & Francis.

Clegg, S., 1980. Organization, Class and Control. New York, Taylor & Francis publishing.

Cook, S., 2004. Change Management Excellence: Using the Four Intelligences for Successful Organizational Change. London, Kogan Page Publishers.

Doh, P, J., 2005. Handbook on Responsible Leadership and Governance in Global Business. London, Edward Elgar Publishing.

Kotter, J. P., 1996. Leading Change. New York, Harvard Business Press.

Kuriger, C., 2004. Organization Change: Case Studies in the Real World. Florida: Universal Publishers.

Mills, H. J., 2008. Understanding Organizational Change. New York, Taylor & Francis Publishing.

Orridge, M., 2009. Change Leadership: Developing a Change Adept Organization. England, Gower Publishing, Ltd.