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Change Leadership 101: Understanding the Basics

Organizations are so much more than just a place of work. Organizations are a community of people who are dedicated to a common goal. Like any individual person, a group of colleagues, volunteers, or team members will experience change on the path to further development and growth.  

You don’t have to wait around for positive organizational changes to happen on their own—you can take an active role in changing leadership. 

Effective and successful leaders, often with a doctorate in leadership, organization developmentdoctorate in educational leadership, help organizations adapt to modern challenges, improve employee and personnel satisfaction, and increase productivity. This quick guide will go over the basics of change leadership skills, demonstrate why change leadership is important, and provide resources for you to continue growing as a transformational leader. 

What is Change Leadership? 

Change leadership focuses on the human side of structural and social changes. It's crucial in the change process and in successfully managing change within an organization. Many executives and senior leaders understand that their organizations have to grow in order to survive. However, proposed change initiatives may fail to have a lasting impact if the management in organizations focus more on dollars and cents than on the actual people who are affected by new changes.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 50% to 70% of planned change efforts fail2. The study of change leadership is aimed at bridging the gap between organizational needs and personnel needs, so that planned changes can have a higher success rate and lead to better outcomes for everyone involved. Therefore, to achieve successful change, an effective leader needs to consider both financial goals and the impact of change on the organizational culture. By doing so, they can create a culture that embraces transformational change, leading to sustained success.

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Key Areas of Change 

Change leaders aren’t limited to supporting employees as they navigate through new changes. They can also assess an organization’s current policies and suggest better methods to help steer it toward success. Change leaders help organizations make positive reforms in several key interpersonal areas, including:  

  • Hiring practices 
  • Diversity 
  • Inclusivity 
  • Internal communication 
  • Conflict resolution 

For example, the Harvard Business Review explores an effective change leadership initiative created to improve the traditional interview process. The head of business development at a tech company noticed that standardized interview practices led to unreliable results. He proposed a change initiative and solution where every candidate’s interview would be unique, so that people with diverse skills and backgrounds had an opportunity to demonstrate their individual value 3

What Role does an Effective Leader have in Leading Change?

These are the roles that a change leader can take in the change management process:

  • Agitator - This role recognizes challenges and takes action towards finding solutions that bring about positive change. 
  • Innovator - This role involves generating actionable solutions to address grievances brought to light by the agitator. The innovator is also the planner in finding new and creative ways to address challenges.
  • Orchestrator - The role involves taking the innovator's plan and facilitating actions among departments and groups to test the proposed solution on a larger scale. This role is often felt and seen in good leadership.

Why is Change Leadership Important?

In addition to helping organizations institute new processes, technologies, and policies, change leadership is important because it allows employees to reach their full potential. 

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, 63% of Latinx individuals and 46% of black women do not feel included in the workplace, and are not confident that their ideas are respected4. By overseeing change initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, effective leaders create a positive work environment with a culture that values the contributions of historically marginalized groups. 

Change leaders understand that no organization can reach its full potential unless its employees are given the tools to reach their full potential. A diverse workforce can lead to new perspectives, a wider talent pool, innovation, and better performance. Respect, compassion, and communication are critical elements in the atmosphere of any thriving workplace. There are several skills that change leaders use to ensure their organization is healthy and inclusive. 


How to Lead Change: Critical Skills 

Leadership is a complex concept that combines psychology, business management, advocacy, public speaking, and several other areas of study. This leadership change management can’t be mastered in a day. However, you can get off to a good start by learning these critical skills: 

  • Communication – The best leaders are able to clearly explain the who, what, when, where, why, and how of any organizational change. Take the time to thoroughly map out why changes are necessary, what specific changes will take place, when the changes will occur, who will be affected by the changes, and how the changes will benefit everyone. This helps workers feel supported as they adapt to new processes.  
  • Collaboration – You can only get so far on your own. Great leaders know how to integrate the skills and experiences of managers, colleagues, and all team members in order to implement strategic change. They leave their egos at the door and aren’t afraid to accept help. Everyone has a valuable perspective and their input can help you make well-informed decisions. Engaging employees is essential to generating strong buy-in to new changes.  
  • Managing expectations – When organizations make a big change, they’re hoping for big results. However, the best leaders know not to be blinded by the big picture. High expectations can be overwhelming and seem abstract. It’s important to break down one big project into several smaller parts. Getting a win early is great for building morale and boosting momentum. Set achievable benchmarks on the way toward the main goal.  

Learn More About Change Leadership 

The ability to help organizations come up with creative solutions and lead positive change is a valuable skill that every leadership team should possess. Effective and successful leaders who understand the human side of business are an asset. To further your career and expertise in change management initiative, learn how to be a transformational leader at Alliant. With a strong focus on effective leadership, inclusion and diversity, Alliant classes will set you up for success in all kinds of communities.

Check out available programs today to find out more about Alliant’s excellent faculty, virtual learning options, flexible scheduling, and more. 


  1. Leading Effectively Staff, "How to Be a Successful Change Leader," Center for Creative Leadership, November 24, 2020. Accessed on November 19, 2021.…\
  2. David Dinwoodie, et al., Navigating Change: A Leader's Role (Greensboro: 2015), 12, Accessed on November 19, 2021.…
  3. Alex Haimann, "How to Design a Better Hiring Process," Harvard Business Review, June 26, 2020. Accessed on November 19, 2021.
  4. Pooja Jain-Link, Julia Taylor Kennedy, and Trudy Bourgeois, "5 Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Workplace," Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2020. Accessed on November 19, 2021.

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