Organizational Change Management and Leadership

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Practical Implications for Leaders in Tumultuous Change

Leadership plays an essential role in addressing the changes occurring at companies. Compared to management, leadership is more intuitive and encourages inspiration, motivation, and impact on the part of leaders to ensure that their subordinates follow the vision of an organisation and the reaching of long-term goals and objectives. There are different approaches that have been employed to understand better the part of leaders in shaping followers’ responses to change. For example, the approach rooted in literature on leadership has seen change as a situational contingency that influences the shifts in the effectiveness of a particular leadership style (Herold, Fedor, Cadwell, & Liu, 2008).

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Such an approach implies the integration of a specific leadership style to address situations occurring within the change process. Another method refers to the generalisation of followers’ support for change efforts. For instance, procedural fairness is needed to support the transition process associated with change. However, while theoretical knowledge is ample when it comes to leading through change, leaders lack practical evidence that would help leaders understand how to act during periods of tumultuous change. This section aims to assess the practical implication for those leading organisations through change, with focus placed on people, groups, leaders, and theories of organisational performance and its effectiveness.

People, Perceptions and Attitudes

Tumultuous organisational change usually disrupts the fabric of corporate life in regards to individuals’ interpersonal relationships, their perceptions and attitudes toward boundaries as well as employee and work unit status and social identities. While change is being implemented for positive reasons, people working at an organisation may often respond negatively toward change and resist the efforts associated with change. The uncertainty associated with careers and roles, communication, fear or anxiety, as well as new roles and relationships that will influence the skills exhibited by workers (Lewis, 2000).

In addition, during change, some employees may have issues disengaging from their old structures because they feel a sense of loss and the forced need to let go (Amiot, Terry, Jimmieson, & Callan, 2006). As suggested in the change model developed by Oreg (2006), individuals’ resistance to change is a multi-dimensional attitude that comprises affective, cognitive and behavioural components. The affective component is concerned with persons’ feelings about change, the cognitive component is about the thoughts about change while the behavioural component is associated with actions and intentions to act when responding to change (Oreg, 2006). According to theorists, anticipated change outcomes among individuals were linked to affective and cognitive resistance dimensions (Ololube & Ololube, 2017).

Thus, perceptions of the change process were found to be connected to the behavioural component and, to an extent, with affective and cognitive resistance. The model developed by Oreg (2006) points to the value of developing the models of employee perceptions and organisational change. Change-based differences are essential to consider when it comes to the attitudes and perceptions of individuals during change due to the differences depending on the type of change being implemented. For instance, incremental change takes place over time in small but planned steps and relies on democratic leadership that involves consultations with employees (Rebeka & Indradevi, 2015). Thus, it is expected that individuals will have a more positive attitude toward change.


Teams and groups form critical functional units of organisations that depend on the proper functioning of work units. According to researchers, the importance of group structures and processes has an immense impact on outcomes, with numerous team models and constructs being proposed to support their functioning (Salas, Stagl, & Burke, 2004). Leadership is among the main variables determining teams; success and is among the reasons for the failure with which team-based work systems are implemented (Gil, Rico, Alcover, & Barrasa, 2005).

Thus, within an environment of change, leaders are expected to provide groups with the necessary levels of support as laid out in the change-oriented leadership models. The direct impact of leadership on team outcomes, their performance and satisfaction should be explored further as related to the process of change at organisations.

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As found by Gil et al. (2005), leaders should play mediating roles within group processes associated with change. Shifts may occur when the organisational climate is seen as the measure of group processes, both in regard to the global environment and the climate of innovation. Moreover, leadership styles will have different influences on teamwork and group dynamics during organisational change due to the varied nature of attitudes and behaviours that leaders may exhibit.

For example, as found by Cilliers (2006), the compulsive leadership style means that a leader will approach the change process with mechanistic control and structure. Such a leader would passively resist change and will make sure to avoid any complexity of his or her involvement in the change process. As a result, the team will experience being forced into the leader’s views and actions, which can be disempowering and frustrating for them (Cilliers, 2006).

When led by a compulsive leader, teams are prevented from having opportunities to gain autonomy or be creative within the process of change. Due to the inherent anxiety associated with change, teams are more naturally dependent on the leader for the direction, management and containment of tasks and responsibilities, and when leaders show ineffective qualities, teams are less likely to adhere to the change management programme successfully.

The practical implications of leading teams through tumultuous organisational changes are concerned with the effective coordination across teams and the maximisation of talent and versatility among workers, which creates well-positioned teams that could evolve as a collective unit. Leaders are expected to assess the organisational design by conducting an audit to endure that teams in question have the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to develop through change (Reillu, 1998).

One of the key challenges is revealing weaknesses that would have to be addressed efficiently before the change process begins. In addition, it is essential to set the direction for change in order for the team to have an idea of a vision and where the organisation is heading. Team engagement is among the crucial practical advice for leaders to move through tumultuous change. As mentioned by Steve Jobs, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” (as cited in Lipman, 2018). Within the change process, it is important that teams have a voice and a reciprocal relationship with their leaders who should listen to their followers that may come up with solutions to arising issues.


During tumultuous organisational changes, leaders are expected to take full responsibility for key processes, understand the mindset of their teams, enlist the support from everyone involved in the organisational operation and hold them accountable. Because of this, the role of leaders in change management is associated with high levels of care, commitment and communication because of the need to bridge between the envisioned change and the organisation.

However, one of the key challenges for leaders in managing change is addressing the obstacles that may limit the success of the process on both a short- and long-term basis (Ryerson University, 2011). For instance, employee resistance is a change issue that requires leaders to leverage their relationships with teams to address the concerns that employees may have on a personal level. Leaders will ask for feedback and work on responding to the concerns openly and honestly. Another change obstacle is the communication breakdown that leaders need to address by communicating key information on an ongoing basis.

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As mentioned in the section regarding the leadership of groups during change, leaders are expected to establish a clear vision that will be shared by followers and is both inspiring and understandable. However, leaders will likely be met with more specific challenges such as the change management timeline (Protzman et al., 2016). Before beginning the change process, it is imperative to ask questions on whether there is readiness for change. During the process, leaders will recognise important milestones and the actions of followers at times of change. After the change, leaders will reinforce the goals of the change programmes and communicate the advantages and disadvantages stemming from the process.

While supporting employees, leaders themselves are expected to adapt to the change management process. Flexibility, both cognitive and emotional, is needed to allow leaders to oversee and leverage the work at their organisation while also moving the change agenda forward. The agile leadership theory applies in this case as a framework for establishing an inclusive and democratic leadership that has greater openness to innovations and ideas (De Smet, Lurie, & St. George, 2018). Such an approach leads to the emergence of agile organisations within which leaders will have to exhibit innovative qualities.

As suggested by De Smet et al. (2018), agile leaders are the ones who would extend and transcend the competencies that existed previously. For extended periods of time, leaders have been seen as planners, controllers, and directors. In agile organisations, leaders are seen as “machines, leaders brought certainty, control, and authority” (De Smet et al., 2018, p. 6).

In the environment of tumultuous change, leaders will transform themselves when adjusting to new contexts. As mentioned by Kegan and Lahey (2009), leaders of organisations that aim to reach agility should make profound personal shifts from being reactive to creative. The creative mindset of discovery is associated with “playing to win,” searching for thought diversity, embracing challenges and risks and fostering creative collision (De Smet et al., 2018, p. 10). Such leaders will encourage innovation among workers, continual testing, learning and experimentation. However, this does not imply that innovation represents s a small and insignificant activity within the organisation. Rather, it is concerned with building agility and innovation in the core way of working for leaders and executives.

Theories of Organisational Performance

Change management and change leadership theories may be used for guiding organisational performance and effectiveness at times of transformation. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with using such theories in practice. For instance, when leaders apply the Social Change Leadership Theory, the expect to reach a change objectives as related to personal, organisational and societal aspects through promoting the development of social change agents who would address and solve relevant community workers (Crawford, Brungardt, & Maughan, 2000).

Another example is the Transformational Leadership Theory is a leadership approach implying the individualised consideration when dealing with followers, encouraging their imagination, and challenging the old ways of completing tasks and assignments (Boyd, 2009). The advantages of using such theories during organisational change include the buy-in, the ability to overcome politics and instilling urgency within an organisation.

Buy-in refers to the commitment of employees to make strategic decisions, which is essential for making change last. Change leadership theories allow communicating the vision for the change within an organisation, which means that the organisation will be more receptive to the idea of changing (Coetzee, Visagie, & Ukpere, 2014).

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Overcoming politics is an advantage that allows leaders to remove barriers associated with political and cultural aspects at organisations through empowering employees to adjust the way they operate and cope with challenges. Instilling urgency is a positive outcome of using change leadership theories because employees understand the necessity for rapid and long-term transformation.

The disadvantages of using change leadership theories include limited risk management, limited external influence, and inadequate execution. Limited external influence is a disadvantage that arises from leadership bias and the lack of an external perspective that prevents leaders from understanding how they can implement change effectively (Sirkin, Keenan, & Jackson, 2005). Limited execution is a barrier that arises when leadership theories do not account for the time and resources that are necessary for change implementation.

Limited risk management is a disadvantage arising from the lack of a full understanding of the capacity of the organisation to cope with rapid changes (Kaplan & Mikes, 2012). Thus, change management forces are required to collect the relevant details to provide control and risk management needed to deal with the risks that change leadership would bring.

The current social and economic environment is volatile, with new challenges frequently arising, affecting businesses overall as well as people who work in them. The latest trends showing to disrupt organisations include the gig economy, robotics, and the rise of anti-establishment views that affect the way in which management and corporate affairs are approached at companies. Due to this, old business models are forced to experience tumultuous changes to adjust to the shifting environments. Leaders are expected to managed a multitude of human-related issues that limit change implementation for the change to be successful.

Power, Politics and Conflict During Organisational Change

Beyond interactions and motivation of followers, leadership implies an institution has long been associated with the concept of purpose and subsequent implications of followers directed at the specific purpose. According to Rollinson (2005), leadership is a “process in which the leader and his or her followers interact in a way that enables the leaser to impact the actions of the followers in a non-coercive way, towards the achievement of certain objectives and aims” (p. 185). To have leverage at organisations, leaders may employ politics, power, and conflict to make sure that workers accept changes in the workplace as well as to attain organisational effectiveness.

Thus, within organisational change management, it is important to understand the impact of power, politics and conflict while also acknowledging the factors that influence organisational change. In addition, the practical applicability of leadership theories should be discussed when it comes to changes occurring at organisations.

Power, Politics and Conflict

Leadership is defined as influencing the activities of other individuals toward accomplishing set goals. Within the leadership framework, power refers to the potential of leaders to impact the actions of others in regard to accomplishing set goals. Therefore, leadership and power are closely connected since, without a source of power, there may be no leadership (Lunenburg, 2012).

For leaders, power can be positional or personal. Positional power refers to the power given to a leader by the organisation in which he or she is working (Singh, 2009). Therefore, it is directly associated with the power that is provided to leaders based on their job title. Personal power is associated with the power that is given by people, such as subordinates, peers or bosses, to a leader (Kumar, Adhish, & Chauhan, 2015). It is indicative of the level of commitment that others have to a leader and is associated with a person’s personality, integrity and competency.

Many organisations view office politics as comprising of negative workplace behaviours ranging from favouritism to avoidance (Cairns, 2017). Such behaviours are linked to leaders’ or managers’ power and status. However, organisational politics does not have to be associated with winners and losers within work settings; however, it does require something to which researchers refer to as political savvy (Cairns, 2017). The standard definition of politics includes a range of activities associated with influencing the actions and policies of a government or “getting and keeping power in a government” (Merriam-Webster, 2020).

When the term government is replaced with management, office politics comes to influence the actions and policies that are put in place organisational managers. The exercise or leaders’ political skills is the most effective at organisations in the case when it is known in regard to the outcome that is being achieved (Jarrett, 2017). As mentioned in the research article by Cairns (2017), “political skill is like the wind: people feel its effectiveness but do not see what caused it” (p. 6).

Moreover, as mentioned by Ferris, Davidson, and Perrewé (2005), thriving in the modern work setting for leaders means knowing what to do, when to do it, how to do it and who can do it best. Therefore, organisational politics enables leaders to do what is in their power to motivate or persuade followers to achieve the goals that are likely to encourage the change process.

As leaders are expected to lead change, development and transformation at their organisations, they will inevitably encounter conflicts. Conflicts in the workplace are described as disagreements among parties that are characterised by hostility and antagonism (Thakore, 2013). It is the responsibility of leaders to implement effective conflict management at their organisations to ensure the reduction of negative outcomes while increasing the positive (Doucet, Poitras, & Chenevert, 2008). In change leadership, conflict management skills are imperative for leaders to enforce in order to give direction and guidance toward a resolution (Saundry, Fisher, & Kinsey, 2019).

For instance, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument can be used for recognising and understanding leaders’ own conflict handling models (Altmae, Turk, & Toomet, 2013). The model is helpful for leaders to determine which conflict handling methods are the most suitable for each specific conflict situation.

Theoretical Approaches to Power, Politics and Conflict

Theoretical approaches to power can illustrate the way in which leaders can use power within organisational settings to facilitate the change process. The first approach to power is rooted in the findings of Pfeffer (1993) suggesting that power is differentiated into structural and personal sources. Structural sources represent a formal position and authority within the organisational structure, the ability to cultivate supporters and allies, the access to and control over various resources, and the lack of internal dissent (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2001). Personal sources of power include the ability to focus energy on tasks, the ability to understand others, flexibility and energy (Pfeffer, 1993). The second approach to power is that power relies on the relationship between the one holding the power and his or her subordinates, while the third approach is associated with the power being deeply seated within organisations and thus not being visible (Hill, 2007).

For example, transformational leadership is rooted in the set of values and beliefs that encourage the motivation of employees on the part of leaders, which points to the fact that power is given through the strengthening of relationships between leaders and followers (Kayode, Mojeed, & Fatai, 2014). Political leadership is used for explaining the functioning of different political systems and relevant decision-making. In the majority of approaches, the extent of relationships between leaders and the public (Kayode et al., 2014). If strong connections exist, it is likely that the leaders will have the support from followers in the decision-making process occurring during change.

Within the organisational context, theories of conflict resolution matter more compared to theories of conflict as they offer suggestions as to how conflicts could be eliminated. The theories are also rooted in the relationships between leaders and followers as a basis for alleviating the persistent negative environments facilitated by conflicts. For example, the cooperative model encourages parties to engage in negotiation to reach consensus (Shonk, 2020).

Ury’s and Fisher’s principled negotiation is a theory that puts forward several principles of negotiation, such as generating options or separating people from their problem, aimed at resolving conflicts occurring between parties (Fisher & Ury, 1991). Another example is the conflict transformation theory developed by Bush, Folger, and Lederach, suggesting that a fundamental change in individuals’ attitudes and relationships is needed in order to mitigate conflicts (Burgess, Burgess, Glaser, & Yevsyujova, 1997). Therefore, the approaches to power, leadership, and conflict within the organisational setting are concerned with the effective collaboration and the strengthening of relationships between leaders and followers.

Change Programmes

To facilitate change at organisations, leaders may use power, politics and conflict resolution and embed them in organisational change programmes. As a rule, change programs fail when there is not enough understanding of what the change implies and how it can be reached. An example of a successful change program was carried out in Microsoft when the company decided to reorganise its Office unit to combine all programs (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) into one application (Everwise, 2017).

Under the leadership of Julie Larson-Green, the change meant “thinking more broadly and deeply about the future […] rather than focusing so much on the individual aspects” (Everwise, 2017, para. 3). The success of the change at Microsoft was attributed to the clear division of responsibilities and goals to be carried out. The leadership of the project communicated the need for change clearly, considering both internal and external factors. Internally, the change meant a new division of work by tasks rather than groups.

Externally, the change prepared the organisation for the new consumer needs and trends in the technology industry. An example of unsuccessful change management is the inability of Blockbuster Video to change in the light of shifting consumer demands in the video rental market (Satell, 2014). Instead of paying attention to what their customers needed, Blockbuster’s leadership proceeded with a change that included high late fees, which alienated customers and encouraged them to choose such services as Netflix.

Factors Influencing Change

Based on the examples mentioned above, there are wider external and internal factors that influence organisational change. External factors that encourage change at organisations are predominantly associated with changing technologies and trends that influence consumer demands (Foroudi, Gupta, Sivarajah, & Broderick, 2018). The move to digital video streaming, for example, meant that Blockbuster video had to implement a change that would provide a new paid service to customers that would align with their demand (Ash, 2020).

Internal factors are concerned with the need for change within an organisation, which could include change leadership, the decline in profit, union action or others (Kaiser, 2013). Effective change management has the potential to increase organisational profits and competitive advantage (Ishmael, 2014). When implemented correctly and with minimal disruptions, an organisational change may address the previously unmet needs of customers and boost the company’s income as more clients become interested in its products or services.

Effective change management has also been linked to the practical use of leadership theories as frameworks that would allow leaders to use their skills and approaches in different ways to influence followers. When a leader implements situational leadership in practice, he or she will direct employees on what they should do and how (Mwai, 2011). There is no reciprocal communication between leaders and followers; rather, each situation is managed by the leader separately without collaborating with employees. On the other hand, when leaders apply the transformational leadership theory in practice, they are expected to inspire and stimulate workers to reach particular goals associated with organisational change.

There is a need for a reciprocal relationship between leaders and followers, which is different from the situational leadership approach. In practice, transformational leaders have individualised concerns of workers and strive to facilitate common good (Steinmann, Klug, & Maier, 2018). In the case when a leader chooses a servant approach to leadership, it is expected that he or she would place the needs of others over their personal interests (Allen et al., 2016). Servant leaders are usually perceived as having a social responsibility to serve first (Tanno & Banner, 2018). In change management, such an approach to leadership means that a leader will consider the needs of workers first and embed them into the decision-making.

To conclude, power, politics, and conflict are significant components of leadership within the organisational change process. The understanding of approaches and models of leadership explained why some organisations succeed in the change management while others do not. By testing the different approaches to leadership, it is possible for leaders to see what works for their organisations and what does not in order to make appropriate change management decisions. Politics could be an essential aspect of change leadership that would allow leaders to engage employees in the process of decision-making. Conflicts will inevitably arise during the change process, and it is the responsibility of a leader to carry out effective conflict resolution strategies to ensure the success of a change.


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