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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Leading Change

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #81

If you have been following my PLDC blog, you will recognize the focus of this week’s Leadership Thoughts – Leading Change. I’ve been studying, writing, and talking about this concept of leading change for several years. If you agree with the following two statements, you understand why leading change is a critical function of leadership.

  1. If you are not creating productive change, you are not leading!

  2. Most transformational change initiatives fail.

I generally get some pushback from folks on the first statement. They will say, we don’t just change things for the sake of change. To which I reply, I certainly hope not! There is a vast difference between change for the sake of change and implementing a productive change. Don’t get me wrong, managing the status quo is an important skill, but leaders take people where they would not usually go alone. The second statement is supported by research. Although the percentage of failures varies by study, all the numbers I’ve seen are above 50% and most above 75%. So, the overarching question that has been going around in my head is, how can we increase the percentage of successful implementation of technical and adaptive change?

Primary Research

I am fortunate to be a course facilitator for Introduction to Leadership and Innovation at Saint Francis University. This course is the cohort’s first course leading to Ed.D. in leadership. One of the units of study, you guessed it, is about leading change. Like most graduate professors, I benefit from the students' research. Sherri Fredlock selected the topic of “change management” as the focus for an assignment. The students were asked to read three studies on a topic of their choice, develop annotated bibliographies, and write a paper to summarize their micro-research. Sherri uncovered two key findings in the primary research which are worth consideration when leading change. I appreciate Sherri agreeing to allow me to share some of her insights from her study of the change process.

  1. Three Different Commitment Dimensions to Change According to one study, there are three different commitment dimensions to change: affective, continuance, and normative. During the affective dimension, the goal for people affected by the change is to see the need for and believe in the benefits of the change. The continuance commitment dimension is when the change is being acted on. The authors used the “refreezing stage” descriptor to describe the normative commitment dimension. This stage is where successful change becomes part of daily practice. During the normative dimension, it is essential to continue to provide support and celebrate the positive outcomes created by the change. In business organizations, the execution was identified as a significant factor in the successful implementation of a change; in academia, however, social competencies such as those related to leadership ability and strategic planning were found to be more closely linked to change effectiveness.

  2. Communication is Key Another study in the hospitality industry revealed some interesting aspects of the importance of communication. Specifically, the study stated that most changes fail because of employees’ adverse reactions and resistance. The researchers defined formal communication as flowing from the top down; change leaders used meetings, emails, announcements, and similar methods to communicate with employees. Meanwhile, informal communication was defined as gossip and rumors between employees. The study demonstrated the importance of change management communications to successful change. This study supports the need for change leaders to beware and influence both the formal and informal messages that occur daily within an organization. However, no one change communication model works in all organizations; success rests on the shoulders of a change leader and how well they engage with employees. Another interesting outcome of this study is how males and females interrupt and react to the change message.

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William and Susan Bridges

I want to share some key takeaways from a book I recently read. The book’s first sentence reads, "It isn't the changes that will do you in; it's the transition." The authors explain that change is situational; the transition is psychological. They identify three phases of transition.

  • The first phase is letting go of the old ways and how people identify with how they always do things around here.

  • The second phase is the in-between time when the old is gone, but the new isn't fully operational. If the change initiative survives the first two stages.

  • The third one comes out of the transition and creates a new beginning.

The authors do an excellent job of moving their readers by identifying the problem and possible solutions. There are chapters on how to get people to let go, launch a new beginning, and transition, development, and renewal.

The authors also provide a fifteen-question survey or framework to assess change readiness. Many change readiness tools offer insight into your organization's readiness for change. John Kotter, one of the leading experts on organizational change, once said that if the organization is not ready for change, the leader shouldn't force it on them. I have learned that creating a culture ready for change involves creating a learning organization. One study discussed the importance of social competencies, which many leaders neglect. The transformation of an organization begins with an emotionally and socially aware leader who practices emotional intelligence and social awareness skills. Failure is part of the transformation process, but it cannot be used as an excuse to give up.


Hechanova, M. R. M., Caringal-Go, J. F., & Magsaysay, J. F. (2018). Implicit change leadership, change management, and affective commitment to change. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 39(7), 914–925.

Shulga, L. V. (2021). Change management communication: the role of meaningfulness, leadership brand authenticity, and gender. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 62(4), 498–515.

Dzwigol, H., Shcherbak, S., Semikina, M., Vinichenko, O., & Vasiuta, V. (2019). Formation of strategic change management system at an enterprise. Academy of Strategic Management Journal, 18(Special Issue 1), 1–8.


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