Wednesday, April 21, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 3 What does it take to lead?

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here.

Chapter three explores what is required to lead change effectively.

One helpful insight is the fact that they need to be able to operate both on the church and in the church, to both performing public skills (ensuring existing functions like preaching, pastoring and organisation) and backstaging (engaging support, working with resistance, influencing the future).

Key phrases keep appearing – “deal with ambiguity” (44), “deal with ambiguity, paradoxes and dilemnas” (45), “facilitative and engaging practices” (55)

The danger lights, especially in regard to some existing church change process, are there if we want to pay attention:

“Might not the continual search for the hero-leader be a critical factor in itself, diverting attention away from building institutions that by their very nature, continually adapt and reinvent themselves, with leadership coming from many people and many places and not just from the top. (45 citing Senge 2002, 64)

When, oh when will the church get over the search for the one dynamic, command/control type leader. When will it realise that their is no magic bullet, that leaders need “not follow a set or common approach to the overall change implementation process.” (49) Instead: “It is only by learning new things about ourselves, our relationships with others and discovering new ways of seeing reality that we can start to implement new [business] practices” (49)

Research of 84 leaders shows “that effective change leadership requires the leaders to have a high level of Emotional Intelligence.” (50)

Over 100 change leadership stories (when, on when might the church collect 100 change stories and use them as one of the data sets for reflecting on leadership. Could we be part of this with the Master of Ministry), showed three broad groups of behaviour, and a subset of behaviours:

  • Shaping behaviour – lead by example, expect hard work and enthusiasm, personally persuasive, expecting accountability.
  • Framing change – working with others to create vision and direction, explaining, educating and communicating on need for change, giving freedom for innovation within broad frameworks, changing how things get done as well as what gets done
  • Creating capacity – developing the skills of others in implementing change, offer feedback and coaching, working across the organisation at all levels, ensure adaptation of reproducible systems.

The change stories indicate that while directive type leaders focus on the first, shaping behavior, this actually negatively reduces the likelihood of change. Yep reduces! By contrast, it is the last two – framing change and creating capacity – that bring long term change.

This data was reduced to four core change leadership principles:

  • attractor – creates energy for change by connecting with others emotionally to embody the future, creates compelling story, weaves it to make sense of the life of the organisation, seeks good of the organisation above their own, able to adapt their leadership
  • edge and tension – amplifies disturbance by telling truth, is constant in tough times, challenges assumptions, stretches people, grows talented people
  • creates a container – holds the tension around the change by managing expectations, faces conflict, encourages, creates safe space to take risks, seeks alignment of resources
  • transforming space – creates movement by showing commitment, is vulnerable in a way that frees people to new possibilities, breaks existing patterns and challenges systems.

I’ve just spent 3 days and over 20 hours with 15 students. The topic was change and the leadership question sat with me all week. How to develop these people? How to best use the time? Was this the best use of my time? Should instead have been researching change stories? offering ongoing and longterm coaching with a few leaders?

The next chapters might answer these question, as they will turn to explore how to develop change leaders.

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM


  1. Hi Steve,
    These last few days have been helpful for me, was just chewing my husband’s ear off about what I learned, gained from the intensive. I do think though that offering coaching to leaders is going to be the best way to ensure change processes stay on track…it’s the apprentice thing. Mostly I just feel like I have no idea what I’m doing! Thanks for all your input, I came away with a lot to think through.

    Comment by Carolyn — April 22, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  2. thanks carolyn. i offer a one year coaching programme, but listening to your story makes me think it’s not long enough. the dilemna with long term is
    – how to keep it sustainable ie the balance between mutual support and input.
    – how to make it pay

    what i found interesting was to see how when I gave space for “coaching” in the afternoon ie work on your own change project and making myself available for 1-1, a good number of the class didn’t engage in what seemed a good potential coaching opportunity.

    that was interesting for me to observe and is part of the reflection in this post


    Comment by steve — April 22, 2010 @ 8:56 am

  3. oh, i should stay that by 2011 i will be offering, alongside the year long coaching through a mix of input, project and readings, an ongoing monthly coaching group, but i am seeing it as a peer learning group around mission, that builds on a year of group coaching.


    Comment by steve — April 22, 2010 @ 8:58 am

  4. re the book review, and the sentiments around change needing to be about the system / culture / community structures and ethos, not so much the hero leader – yes, furious nodding, I agree !!!

    Comment by Sarah — April 22, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.