Leadership and Organizational Change – A Team-Based Approach

Change is never easy; it is in our human nature to resist change – whatever the cause. However, despite this fact, many organizations have managed to overcome the barriers to change and have adopted new models for not only leadership styles, but many other organizational processes as well (Nahavandi, 2003). As you might have already identified, one of the most difficult models to change is moving from a typical hierarchical or autocratic style of management to a more democratic or team-oriented style of leadership. However, the key to effective organizational change is a sound change management process (Dudink & Berge, 2006). Part of that change management process, is also preparing your business for a new shift in leadership methods and requires that the organization build a team-oriented culture – starting from the top and communicating down (Rosenburg, 2001). Managers at all levels must identify and leverage each person’s top skills, and create sound value-based communications between team members (Dudink & Berge, 2006).

Change can be the ultimate test of a leader. As the leader of an organization, you should implement a solid change management strategy in order to effectively manage not only your people, but the business dimensions of the organization as well (Dudink & Berge, 2006). According to John Kotter (2007) a leading expert in change management, leaders often make several key mistakes – those of which Kotter has specifically narrowed down to eight key steps. As the leader of the organization, you should consider taking these eight steps into considering in order to develop a solid approach and framework for transforming your organizational leadership methods.

The first step in dealing with change is to establish a sense of urgency. Most change begins when leaders look at the firm’s current situation, performance and customer satisfaction (Kotter, 2007). Is customer satisfaction being affected because of a slow decision making process? Are there “too many cooks in the kitchen” so to speak? This is perhaps the most important step in the process and requires involvement and “aggressive cooperation” by everyone in the organization.

The second step is to create a powerful “guiding coalition”. But what does this mean? Not only must the department or divisional leader become a key stakeholder and supporter, but so must the top-levels of the organization: the Chief Executive Officer and other senior executives. If the most important people in the company do not buy in, the rest will not either (Kotter, 2007). In a small company, this guiding team may only be three or four people, however in a larger organization, this could be a wide range; twenty to fifty people.

The remaining steps include:

1. Defining a long-term vision;

2. Communicating that vision aggressively (i.e., ten times more than you initially think);

3. Removing obstacles that do not support the new vision and empowering others to support that vision;

4. Planning for, creating, and celebrating short-term “wins”

5. Consolidating improvements and preparing for more change (i.e., do not declare victory too soon), and;

6. Institutionalizing the new approaches.

But, how do you effectively persuade others to buy-in to organizational change; specifically from an autocratic to a democratic style of leadership? The first question that should be posed to each and every individual in your guiding coalition should be, “What is leadership?” Carefully listen to each person’s definition: one will typically find many different versions of what each person believes leadership is. However, despite these differences Nahavandi (2003) points out that leadership contains three similar elements: (1) leadership is a group phenomenon; there can be no leaders without followers and therefore is already a team environment, (2) leadership is goal directed, meaning leaders always influence or guide teams to a specific course of action to achieve a specific goals, and (3) in the presence of a leader, one assumes some form of hierarchy or autocratic leadership. However, while this may be the case, it can also be informal, flexible and with mostly equal power.

By addressing these three similar elements, Nahavandi (2003) continues to show that by joining them, we define a leader as any person who guides or influences teams and helps them in establishing and reaching goals and objectives in an efficient manner; in a non-autocratic fashion. This shows that to be an effective leader, one does not have to use a top-down approach, and the responsibilities and accountability of the decisions can be shared amongst the team.

But, the next question is, “How do you get them to change their style of leadership?” In order to sustain a revolutionary change in an organization, you need to first motivate those in your guiding collation or transformational leadership team. Nahvandi (2003) believes transformational leadership is best achieved through inspiration of your followers, which enables them to “enact revolutionary change”. Transformational leadership ultimately includes three primary factors: charisma and inspiration (i.e., creating emotional bonds), intellectual stimulation (i.e., challenging followers to solve problems instead of you), and individual consideration (i.e., developing personal relationships with each follower). When these three factors are combined, they allow a vehicle for change in not only the organization, but in the individuals themselves.

By following these types of steps an organization will consequently produces better ideas while forcing shared accountability of decisions. The greatest implication of these actions will be to change the way in which people think, act and share ideas; consequently changing the very culture of the company and how it does business.

In the words of Kotter (2007), “guiding change may be the ultimate test of a leader.” Human nature is to resist change, and an aggressive and sustained change management process for the organization must be implemented as the framework for leading a significant transformation in organizational culture. Once this framework has been implemented you as the business leader will have efficiently and effectively persuaded your followers, and the rest of the organization into a new way of thinking. Thus, allowing for better, faster and higher quality decisions that in turn provide your customers with what they need: satisfaction.


Dudink, G., & Berge, Z. (2006). Balancing Top-Down, Bottom-Up, and Peer-to-Peer Approaches to Sustaining Distance Training. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education , 7 (3), 144-152.

Kotter, J. (2007). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review , 85 (1), 96-103.

Nahavandi, A. (2006). The art and science of leadership. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Rosenberg, M. (2001). E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Incremental Change Or Step Change – 8 Questions to Define Change Management & Clarify Your Approach

Incremental change or step change? It is very important to establish very early on whether or not what you are proposing can be regarded as incremental change and realistically can be accomplished within the constraints of “Business As Usual”, or whether it is a step change and needs to be handled as a specific initiative – and with the appropriate level of senior sponsorship and practical support.

The key questions are:

(1) Is the change you are proposing an incremental change that can and should be introduced as part of “Business As Usual” and that can be absorbed as part of the day-to-day running of your organisation?

(2) Or is the size, scope and complexity, priority, timescale, strategic importance of the proposed change such that it is a step change and needs to be regarded and handled as a specific initiative and requires some form of change management process?

This is extremely important as you define change management in the context of your organisation.

The reason this is so important is because people are stressed, tired and generally fed up with change initiatives. They need careful and detailed explanation of the proposed changes – why the proposed change is necessary, and the direct effects on them and the benefits to them. They need help and practical support.

As an illustration of this – I was involved with an NHS Trust recently, and contrary to the board’s initial perception of the reason for the apparent resistance and reluctance of senior clinical staff to embrace an initiative, the simple truth was that clinical staff did support the board’s intentions – but they didn’t have the time or energy to handle it.

What was needed was someone to own the initiative full-time and to “formally” recognise that this was a specific step change initiative that needed to be handled outside of hospital “business as usual”.

Here are 8 simple yet powerful questions that will help you clarify which approach to take and how to implement it successfully:

(1) How’s it going to be different when I’ve made the change?

(2) Why am I doing this – how’s it going to benefit me?

(3) How will I know it’s benefited me?

(4) Who is it going to affect and how will they react?

(5) What can I do to get them “on side”?

(6) What are the risks and issues that I’ll have to face?

(7) What steps do I take to make the changes and get the benefit?

(8) How am I going to manage all this so that it happens and I succeed?