Organisational Change Management Volume 2

The Fundamental Tasks of Leadership During Change

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. A leader needs to create a holding environment ‐ an apt analogy is that of a pressure cooker: need to regulate the pressure by turning up the heat while also allowing some steam to escape. If the pressure exceeds the cooker's capacity, the cooker can blow up. However, nothing cooks without some heat.

In the early stages of corporate change, the holding environment can be a temporary place in which a leader creates the conditions for diverse groups to:

- talk to one another about the challenges facing them

- frame and debate issues

- clarify assumptions behind competing perspectives and values

. A leader is responsible for direction, protection, orientation, managing conflicts and shaping norms, and this is described as adaptive work:




Technical or Routine

(management role)


(leadership role)


Define problem & provide solutions

Identify the adaptive challenge and frame key questions & issues


Shield the organisation from external threats

Let the organisation feel external pressure within a range it can tolerate


Clarify roles and responsibilities

Challenge current roles and resist pressure to define new roles quickly

Managing conflict

Restore order

Expose conflict or elicit its emergence

Shaping norms

Maintain norms

Challenge unproductive norms

. A leader must have presence and poise ‐ regulating distress is perhaps a leader's most difficult job and the pressures to restore equilibrium are enormous. Just as molecules bang hard against the walls of the pressure cooker, people bang up against leaders who are trying to sustain the pressures of tough, conflict-filled work. Leadership demands a deep understanding of the pain of change, including the fears and sacrifices associated with major adjustments. It also requires the ability to hold steady and maintain tension, otherwise the pressure escapes and the necessary conditions for learning and change are lost.

A leader must have the emotional capacity to tolerate uncertainty, frustration and pain. He or she has to be able to raise tough questions without being too anxious himself/herself. Employees as well as colleagues and customers carefully observe the verbal and non-verbal cues of the leader's ability to hold steady, so leaders need to communicate confidence that all can effectively tackle the tasks ahead

. A leader needs to encourage diversity & inclusion ‐ diversity is valuable because innovation and learning are a product of our differences. No one learns anything without being open to contrasting points of view. A leader must get staff to confront tough trade-offs in values, procedures, operating styles and power. Different people within the organisation bring different experiences, assumptions, values, beliefs and habits to their work. To get the most out of your diversity and inclusion approach it needs to be

- measured

- camp in by senior executives

- have targets with rewards for achieving them and penalties for not

- be added to the resource

NB Diversity refers to elements of multiculturalism/ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, disability, generational/age, etc

As Jan Carlzon (the legendary CEO of SAS) states

" of the most interesting missions of leadership is getting people to listen and learn from one another. Held in debate, people can learn their way to collective solutions when they understand one another's assumptions. The work of the leader is to get conflict out into the open and use it as a source of creativity..."

. A leader needs to encourage disciplined attention ‐ people need leadership to help them maintain their focus on tough questions

. A leader needs to develop collective self-confidence ‐ as Carlzon observes

"...people aren't born with self-confidence. Even the most self-confident people can be broken. Self-confidence comes from success, experience and an organisation's environment. The leader's most important role is to instill confidence in people. They must dare to take risks and responsibility. The leader must back them up if they make mistakes..."

HBR, 1998c

This can be very important, especially as staff who sense early changes in the marketplace are often at the periphery or lower levels of the organisation. All too often, people look up the chain of command, expecting senior management to meet market challenges to which they themselves should be responding

. A leader has to provide protection to staff who point to the internal contradictions of the organisation

. A leader needs to understand the rational and non-rational aspects of an organisation and its people. The rational refers to what can be reasoned with logic and is observable, while non-rational refers to what must be inferred and can only be interpreted through intuition.

(sources: HBR, 1998a, b & c)


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