Leading and Managing Change: Why the Correct Ratio Is Crucial


The term "change management" is more commonly used than "change leadership," and for good reason. The origin of the term former term stems from the manner in which most change efforts have historically been project‐managed throughout the years. Management is a fundamental and necessary element to achieve successful and lasting change. However, leadership is demonstrably more important. 

Dr. John Kotter (author of 18 best‐selling books, including Leading Change) has spent decades researching transformational change. The data reveals a major contributing factor why a majority of large‐scale transformational change efforts fail, or produce only mediocre results. The culprit? Managing, instead of leading change. Successful and lasting change initiatives require a heavy dose of leadership -- 75 percent according to Kotter's research. Managing the change is a necessary component as well, but the ratio proven to produce successful change is 75 percent leading and 25 percent managing. Inspiring, motivating, engaging, encouraging, energizing, galvanizing, aligning and cultivating ownership and accountability result from leadership. Without these critical beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, successful lasting change is nearly impossible to accomplish.

The term "change management" is itself an oxymoron. Management is about the known (budgets, planning, problem solving, organizing, staffing and schedules) and change is about the unknown. The unknown cannot be managed. You manage what you know; you lead where you want to go. Top leaders understand that leadership is about inspiring, motivating, aligning, rewarding, recognizing and most importantly establishing a vision.

Change that will require shifts in the way that employees think, act and behave cannot be delegated to a task force or change team. Senior leadership must be involved throughout the entire effort. Employees will tolerate what their leaders say; they will ultimately act on what they see their leaders do. When senior leaders communicate a new vision or desired change, and then delegate that effort to a change team, the message sent to the rest of the organization is "this is not very important." The notion of senior leaders delegating change, not playing an active daily role and expecting desired results evokes one of my favorite factoids -- the human being is the only living creature with the capacity and propensity for self‐deception. Stop kidding yourselves; task forces are typically ignored and change teams have little to no impact without senior leaders taking an active role throughout the change effort. When senior leaders are not involved, change efforts nearly always fail.

A strong focus on "leading change" is pivotal to achieving successful and lasting change. Leaders must paint a clear picture of the future for all stakeholders. A picture of success centered on the opportunities and possibilities that will benefit everyone. Only strong leadership can blast through the inertia that exists in many organizations. The white waters of change are here to stay. In today's competitive landscape we have moved beyond the period of episodic change and are now and forever forward will be faced with continuous change. Organizations that will thrive in this new world of work will be those that are able to achieve big bold change. Incremental nudgings and coaxings -- or managing change -- will never engage a critical mass. Bold action is required. To engage that critical mass, to achieve what matters most, requires leadership.

Change requires much more than execution (or managing) of the strategy. Gaining, ownership, alignment, accountability and voluntary contributions of discretionary performance from employees demands more than a project plan. Project management is an important element in the change process, but truly transforming entails more.

This is the second part of a six-part series. Read all six parts:

 1. How to Lead Change and Accelerate Achievement
 2. Leading and Managing Change
 3. How to Be a Change Leader
 4. How to Get Employees to Embrace Change
 5. The Power of Volunteerism
 6. How to Create a Culture of Winning

Mike Evans is a best-selling author/speaker and managing partner of QuestMark. Over the course of his career, he has worked alongside a star-studded list of world-renowned thought leaders such as Dr. Stephen Covey and Tom Peters.