How they constructed change leadership (Notebook No.2)

Post in 31 words – This post introduces the second Notebook and its chapters.  The shift from change management to change leadership begs a question why? We seem to place faith in leading change, but why?

An introduction to the Notebook Series is available here

I have worked at Brighton since October 1987. During a lot of that time I undertook organizational change scholarship and facilitated organizational change workshops. In the early days my focus and the focus of workshop participants was change management. Over time that focus shifted to change leadership.  In organizations including my own I witnessed a growing enthusiasm for change leadership and leading change.  I began wondering why this shift had taken place, had I missed the relevant memo?

There is a lack of research/evidence that change leadership delivers successful organizational change.  However, I have been surprised at how many bright academics believe such evidence exists, just waiting to be discovered.  I have been surprised in the UK how much faith hospitals, schools and even universities have placed in the benefits of leading change.

In The leadership of organizational change, I searched for the origins of change leadership over the past 35 years. This search mirrored my earlier challenging of the belief that 70% of all change initiatives failed. By happy accident rather than intelligent design, I realized that it was change management that they were depicting as failing so that we might believe in change leadership as succeeding.  I believe that the shift from change management to change leadership was merely a change of narrative.  That was the easy bit, how do you convince fellow academics about your ecstatic revelation. If the shift to change leadership was more research implied, than research informed, how do you counter a dominant narrative?

The succinct answer is with great difficulty. The clearer my realization became in my mind the less clear my academic journal submissions became.  My counter-narrative didn’t convince Editors and reviewers and I could only ever offer them parts of this story in specific focussed journal submissions.  In this second Notebook, I tell the story of how they constructed change leadership. My desire to explain the construction of change leadership is not a purely academic exercise. I am concerned about how much organizations and governments have invested in change leadership, at a time when societies have suffered through extreme austerity policies.  My story is not a neutral story, I do want to challenge current thinking about change leadership and the implications for practice.

In the second chapter, Anarchy in the UK, anxiety in the USA, I contrast the anarchy of rock music in the 1970s/1980s with anxieties corporate America was experiencing.  In, Reality used to be a friend of mine, I introduce social constructionism. Your change leader is very real, but are some of the strengths and weaknesses you imagine she possesses real? The title, Eight steps towards successfully leading change, is sarcastic. I do not believe that the eight steps which Professor John Kotter prescribed for leading change deliver successful change. This debate has been confused through references to transformational leadership. Robust research does inform transformational leadership, but transformational leadership is concerned with transforming subordinates rather than organizational transformation. I explain this further in the chapter, Transformational leadership misrepresented and misunderstood. I suspect I am sarcastic in the penultimate chapter Let’s assume change leadership works. The title is based upon a textbook author who suggested that we assume change leadership works in the absence of evidence. I consider depictions of change leadership in textbooks, academic handbooks and journals. The tone is more positive in the final chapter in which I encourage a greater emphasis on differentiating Commanding, managing and leading change.

In the appendix, I include an unpublished paper Questioning the leadership of change in Higher Education. I was troubled when I read A handbook for leaders in higher education: Transforming teaching and learning (Marshall, 2016). This handbook targeted at university leaders, celebrated Kotter’s (1996/2012) eight leading change steps with the book described as a ‘classic’.  I thought enough is enough. I knew I needed to be far more proactive in challenging this nonsense.  Even if these Notebooks, are perceived by readers as nonsense, at least I had a go.

References

Hughes, M. (2016) The leadership of organizational change. London: Routledge.

Kotter, J.P. (1996/2012) Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Marshall, S. (2016). A handbook for leaders in higher education: Transforming teaching and learning. London: Routledge.