Leading Change – a Critical Leadership Skill


Campbell Macpherson

Author of The Change Catalyst, 2018 Business Book of the Year

Change & Strategy International Ltd

Change Catalyst

If you are not leading change, you are not leading anything. You are just managing the status quo.

In today’s crazy, cost-conscious and unpredictable world, the ability to lead change has become the most important skill of any and every leader and leadership team. But leading change is tough. After all, 88% of change initiatives fail – and that statistic was before Trump, Brexit and AI burst into our common consciousness. By the way, for ‘change’ read ‘strategy’ as the words are interchangeable. The vast majority of business strategies, mergers and acquisitions also suffer the same fate – they fail to deliver what they set out to achieve.

That may not be the cheeriest of openings, but it’s true. Which is why The Change Catalyst was dedicated to studying this phenomenon and detailing why change fails, and more importantly, how you can be among the very few that succeed.

In the ‘Leading Change’ workshops I run worldwide, we explore how successful change inevitably boils down to one thing – leadership.

Change fails because leaders fail to clarify what they are trying to achieve – and why. They fail to engage their people to genuinely understand the implications of the new strategy. They fail to appreciate that emotion trumps logic every time. They set the initiative up to fail. They think process alone will automatically deliver the required outcomes. Their success makes them complacent. They inadvertently create a change-averse culture. They fail to stay the course.

Successful and sustainable change requires leaders whose strategy is clear – to everyone. Leaders who genuinely engage with their people and stakeholders. Leaders who realise this means listening. Leaders with “intellectual humility”, who are confident enough to be wrong. Leaders who insert a ‘pause for reflection’ in every change process. Leaders who appeal to their people’s emotions. Leaders who are genuine.

In short, leaders who are equipped with the tools and approaches they need to lead change successfully.

As I said, leading change is tough: Not only do you have to help your people to embrace change but you also have to embrace change yourself. For all change is personal; all change is emotional.

Thousands of pages have been written about ‘Burning Platform’ change – big change that is done to us. When this happens, we all go through the Kubler Ross change curve (some call it ‘the grief curve’) which is a rollercoaster of emotions – emotions that are completely normal and entirely understandable. And difficult to navigate without assistance.

But we also experience a similar emotional rollercoaster when it comes to big change that we instigate. (I call this ‘Quantum Leap’ change.) Even when it is good change we suffer many of the same emotions (fear, doubt, apprehension). As leaders, it is our job to help our people travel through the change curves and out the other end – towards understanding and acceptance – so they can embrace the change and start looking for opportunities.

Why is this your job?

Because only your people can deliver your strategy. Only your people can deliver the change your business requires.

Campbell Macpherson, Change and Strategy
Author of The Change Catalyst, 2018 Business Book of the Year”.