Leading Change

Sections of this topic

    Leadership Competencies and Change

    The growing need for change leadership in organizations is widely acknowledged as some estimates are as high as 70% of all large-scale change initiatives fail to meet the objectives delineated at the beginning of the process. The research and literature on change indicate that a primary reason for the success or failure of a change initiative hinges on the skills and knowledge of the individuals responsible for leading the change. In light of this, one obvious question arises: What leadership behaviors or competencies are most strongly associated with effectively leading or overseeing change initiatives?

    In my opinion, six competency areas enhance the capacity of a leader to coordinate and drive organizational change: Systems Thinking, Strategic Savvy, Organizational Agility, Capacity Building, Creative Communication, and Courage. I am going to introduce the first three in this blog entry and will follow up with an overview of the other three next week. It is important to note that these competencies are intended to correspond most directly with individuals that are in a mid-level leadership role, within medium to large organizations, and with responsibility for overseeing or leading the actual change initiative.

    Systems Thinking

    This is an advanced understanding of how an organization is an interrelated set of relationships, processes, strategies, and cultural influences. It is the ability to see the broader context of the organization and sensitivity to how the different elements are apt to influence and interact with each other when a significant change is introduced into the system. While no one can predict exactly all the ripple effects of change in a system – the leader with the capacity for thinking systemically will accurately anticipate enough of the ripples to make a significant difference.

    Strategic Savvy

    This is an advanced knowledge of the factors that are most critical to the success of an organizational change initiative. And it isn’t just the knowledge of these factors — it is the ability to use them in support of the change process. In essence, it is the understanding and wherewithal to develop and oversee a coherent change strategy. It is an appreciation for factors such as change sponsorship, communication strategies, and success metrics. And of course, it isn’t just an understanding of the factors – it is the ability and willingness to leverage the factors to drive change.

    Organizational Agility

    This is about knowing who to get involved with and knowing how to get them involved to effect positive organizational change. It entails a finely honed understanding of the larger relationship network within an organization — and the requisite skills to navigate, influence, and establish the involvement and/or support of key players under the change initiative. The organizationally agile person has solid interpersonal influence and, what might be referred to as, an advanced level of applied emotional intelligence.

    Next Time

    My next blog entry will describe the behaviors/competencies of Capacity Building, Creative Communication, and Courage. But in the meantime, it would be wonderful if any readers were willing to share their reactions to the first three and any other thoughts, questions, or comments you may have about this idea of change leadership competencies.


    Steve Wolinski provides leadership development, organizational change, and talent management services to numerous public, private, and non-profit organizations.