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The Effect of Change on Leadership (Final Paper Part 4)

Here we are again Chef Fan’s with the thrilling conclusion to my final paper on leadership. I know that it has been a while since I posted the first part so if you would like you can read the full Revised Final Paper by clicking the link. For the people who do remember the other parts and are chomping on the bit to read the last of it here you are:

Change is a fact of life that is always happening. When it comes to leadership change is just a part of the job but how a leader handles or reacts to change will set them apart from just being a good leader.  A great leader reacts to change in a positive way and will lead their team through the changes with everyone’s success in mind. Even looking at the broad definitions of both leadership and management two thing stand out, that management manages and leaders lead. Management at its most basic definition is to manage the current situation and keep the status quo, while leaders on the other hand are supposed to lead people into and through times of change.  When it really comes down to it a leader has many roles to play in times of change and how they play their role will determine how well the change is accepted by the rest of the company.

The first role leaders must play in times of change is that of the sponsor or the leader who is championing the change.  Leaders act as advocates for the change at their level in any organization. These leaders are representatives who keep the change in front of their peers, or even the “higher-ups.” “A Sponsor is the person who won’t let the change initiative die from lack of attention, and is willing to use their political capital to make the change happen.”[1] Along with being the sponsor for change a leader must also fill the role of the role model, because leaders of change must be willing to go first. “Leaders must demonstrate the behaviors and attitudes that are expected of everyone else. Employees watch leaders for consistency between words and actions to see if they should believe the change is really going to happen.”10 Everyone has experienced a time when they hear that something is going to change but must of us won’t believe in the change until they see their leaders acting on that change.

As managers, leaders usually control resources such as people, budgets, and equipment, and thus have the authority to make decisions that affect the initiative. They have the ability to say “yes” or “no” to the project moving forward within the span of their control. “During change, leaders must leverage their decision-making authority and choose the options that will support the initiative.”10 This is why leaders must also play the role of the decision-maker, but at the same time leaders are the face and the voice of change. As the voice of change they must “communicate often to share information, keep people updated and offer encouragement. When employees hear multiple messages in the organization, the one they listen to the most is their immediate boss.”10 Leaders balance interpreting the change message to be relevant for their reports while still matching the overall message.

Leaders provide the motivation to change, and create a sense of urgency and importance about the change, along with showing commitment and passion about getting things done. They offer recognition to those who are participating and doing well. “Leaders realize that change can be difficult, and understand the need for people to be motivated to step out of their comfort zone.”10 However at the same time the last role that a leader plays in change is that of the enforcer. With their authority, leaders hold people in the organization accountable for the change. “Leaders must uphold agreements and make sure others do the same. Leaders don’t let people get away with not changing, and work to understand the underlying reasons so they can remove obstacles. Leaders must also follow through on delivering consequences when people don’t do their part or are resistant to the change.”10 Effective leaders recognize that change cannot happen unless they fulfill these roles that only those in a leadership position can.

In an organization where there is faith in the abilities of formal leaders, employees will look towards the leaders for a number of things. During drastic change times, employees will expect effective and sensible planning, confident and effective decision-making, and regular, complete communication that is timely. Also during these times of change, employees will perceive leadership as supportive, concerned and committed to their welfare, while at the same time recognizing that tough decisions need to be made. However on the other side of the same coin, organizations characterized by poor leadership, employees expect nothing positive. In a climate of distrust, employees learn that leaders will act in indecipherable ways and in ways that do not seem to be in anyone’s best interests. Poor leadership means an absence of hope, which, if allowed to go on for too long, results in an organization becoming completely nonfunctioning. Leadership before, during and after change implementation is the key to getting through the swamp that change brings. Unfortunately, if there isn’t an established track record of effective leadership, by the time it comes to deal with difficult changes, it may be too late.

It would be a mistake to assume that preparing for the journey down the road of change takes place only after the destination has been defined or chosen. When talking about preparing for the change journey, we are talking about leading in a way that lays the foundation or groundwork for any changes that may occur in the future. “Preparing is about building resources, by building healthy organizations in the first place. Much like healthy people, who are better able to cope with infection or disease than unhealthy people, organizations that are healthy in the first place are better able to deal with change.”[2] Using the theories of leadership along with an understanding of a leader’s role in times of change will establish credibility and a track record of effective decision making.  Sadly no matter how well prepared an organization is for change it is still going to be a difficult time for leaders and employees alike.

“During this middle period the organization is the most unstable, characterized by confusion, fear, loss of direction, reduced productivity, and lack of clarity about direction and mandate. It can be a period of emotionalism, with employees grieving for what is lost, and initially unable to look to the future.”11 During this period, effective leaders need to focus on two things. First, the feelings and confusion of employees must be acknowledged and validated. Second, the leader must work with employees to begin creating a new vision of the altered workplace, and helping employees to understand the direction of the future. Focusing only on feelings, may result in wallowing. That is why it is necessary to begin the movement into the new ways or situations. Focusing only on the new vision may result in the perception that the leader is out of touch, cold and uncaring. A key part of leadership in this phase of change is to know when to focus on the pain caused by change, and when to focus on building and moving into the future.

After the storm of change has calmed and employees and leaders are working with the change instead of against it, the last phase of change can take place. “People have become less emotional, and more stable, and with effective leadership during the previous phases, are now more open to locking in to the new directions, mandate and ways of doing things.”11 This is an ideal time for leaders to introduce positive new change, such as examination of unwieldy procedures or quality management. The critical thing here is that leaders must now offer hope that the organization is working towards being better, by solving problems and improving the quality of work life. While the new vision of the organization may have begun while people were slogging through the swamp or storm of change, this is the time to complete the process, and make sure that people buy into it, and understand their roles in this new organization.

                With the understanding of a leader’s role and the phases of change in an organization the last piece of the leadership puzzle has been defined and locked into place. Although it may have been a challenging puzzle with a high skill level requirement and no picture on the puzzle box for us to look at while attempting to assemble it, the picture it presents is one of success. The point behind the leadership puzzle in all of its aspects is that it is going to take time to understand and fit the pieces together. Everyone is going to learn and develop the skills behind leadership in a different way and this will lead to them assembling the leadership puzzle in a different pattern than others, and while the overall pattern of the puzzle may look different the general picture it represents will still be the same. Leadership is a very personal thing and is something that everyone will represent differently. No two leaders are going to be the same even if the two leaders are from the same organization with the same training. The reason for this is because everyone has their own idea about what a good leader is. Most people will have picked a leadership style and theory that fits with their own cultural beliefs and how they apply this knowledge is also going to be effected by what culture they are interacting with. Leadership in Japan is going to be different than leadership in Australia or Mexico. This reason along with the different ideas that every person has about leadership is why there are so many different books, classes, seminars, and discussions about leadership. One thing that can be agreed upon is that there is good leadership and bad leadership. The hope of this paper is that the main theories, application and roles of a leader have been presented in such a way to help bring the puzzle of leadership together for each aspiring leader’s own cultural and contextual needs.  Leadership above all else is an art that takes many years of practice to be good at, but can never truly be mastered because there is always more to learn about one’s self and the people who work for and with us. Chef Charles Carroll said “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great!”



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[1] Six Roles of a Leader During Change.

[2] The Importance of Leadership In Managing Change


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