The Critical Tasks of Change Leadership
Organizational commitment, concentration, and follow-through – one without the others is a formula for
frustration. Without commitment, there cannot be concentration.  Loss of concentration derails follow-through. The
three together are requisites for successful change.  Delivering all three is the deciding role of leadership.


Visioning is conception.  It starts and sustains the change process.  Commitment begins with a destiny in mind.  A
vision gives substance and meaning to the journey. No one will commit to the “next step” of a journey unless he/she
“knows” where it is taking him or her.  No one will commit to ambiguity, or commit to something that is so rigid as to
be unaccommodating.
 Bold ideas (an image, aim, or dream) have magic.  Bold statements (a declaration,
announcement, or proclamation) alienate.  A vision is a bold idea.

Organizational commitment begins and ends with leadership commitment.  As a rule of thumb, the highest standard a
leader can expect his or her followers to rise to is the lowest standard he or she
demonstrates.  Without
demonstration of a high level of personal commitment through courage, persistence, and consideration, few will jump
on board. Demonstrating commitment is about the struggle to keep the promises of the vision and the journey.  
Vision is context for everything an organization does.  Context gives significance.  

Until a vision moves beyond a personal aim to a shared organizational aim and destiny
, progress will be
limited. Neither compliance nor acceptance is ownership. Ownership is mine and ours, not yours and theirs.  

Ownership is the product of a process, a personal mental journey.   At the end of the process people who “own” can
see and believe in a pathway that, if followed, will lead to their success and satisfaction. The core process to
ownership is communications.  It involves systematically moving from Individual Awareness to Shared Awareness;
then from Individual Aims to Shared Aims; and finally to action.

Teamwork (the facilitating force of shared ownership) has two easily assessable indicators.  First, people are
convinced their personal success is contingent on the successful accomplishment of the team's goal.  Second, people
have no doubt that all the people involved are necessary for success.  


Resistance is diversity of thought. Diversity is the seed of creativity. Squelching resistance suppresses creativity
and the possibility of what could be.  Resistance is a feeling not a fact. Whether resistance is personal or
organizational, the root cause is either a mismatch of values or misunderstanding of facts.  A complete articulation
and alignment of both facts and values is the discipline needed to leverage resistance.  When confronted with the
same set of facts, viewing them through the same sets of values, people will reach comparable conclusions.  Changing
the facts changes the feeling.  Changing the values changes the perception.

The antithesis of resistance,
unity, is the outcome of openness, understanding and caring. Openness involves the
personal risk of ridicule.  Understanding requires the discipline of listening.  Caring involves being for something.  
Being against something is a no-lose proposition.  If it does not work out, “I told you so.”  If it does, “That’s not
what I said/meant.”  Being for something carries the risk of being wrong.  Unity, as opposed to resistance, is a
delicate business, and easily snuffed out with the wrong comment at the wrong time.

Comments like these squash openness, extinguish the chance for understanding, and demonstrate a lack of caring.
The power of unity comes only through harnessing the force of disunity.

Most organizations in change
are solutions rich and problem definition poor.  Organizations that take the time to
first clearly define “the problem” achieve unity on the solution.  The battles over solutions and foot dragging during
implementation have their roots in not achieving a shared awareness and understanding of the problem.

Without clarity, there is only confusion. Lack of clarity is a license for indecision.  Conversely, too much clarity is an
edict. The hierarchy of strategic thinking and implementation has nine elements
– Beliefs, Philosophy, Principles,
Concept, Strategy, Design, Action, Audit, and Evaluate
.  Beliefs, philosophy, principles, and concept are the
substance of Vision.  There cannot be ambiguity about the beliefs around what it takes to win, or putting these
beliefs together into a working philosophy that is not self-contradicting.  Nor can there be equivocation about the
behavioral principles that will guide an organization to success, or double-talk about the concept an organization will
pursue.  While inherently these four are broad far-reaching statements, they still must be clear.  These four form the
boundaries within which an organization will pursue its destiny.  While the first four elements deal with the clarity of
boundaries, the final five deal with clarity of choices and actions.  The first four confront distant horizons, the final five
cope with horizons that are nearby.  All require clarity.  As the journey of change progresses, what there needs to be
clarity about evolves.  

Who is going to put their energy into a situation they cannot influence, or in an outcome, they have no stake in?  
You have to have both. Everyone boarding an airplane has a stake in the outcome of the flight.  On the other hand,
while most may be concerned to one degree or another, there is not anything the typical passenger can do to
influence the outcome.  So there is not much point in getting excited about it.  

People get excited and energized about pursuits where they can directly influence the outcome, and how the outcome
plays out has the potential to help or harm them personally.  Involvement is ownership.  Ownership means
accountability and authority for the outcome.  Responsibility comes from within an individual.  Accountability and
authority come from outside.  If people are not afforded both the accountability and authority to act, there is little
hope they will feel responsible. Most will be either “in the back of the cabin along for the ride, or catch another plane.”  
Involvement is different from involved.  Involved is along for the ride, involvement is participation in the outcome.  By
definition, every member of an organization “is involved”.  Involvement requires taking it to the next step.

Delegation requires the giving of both accountability and authority.  Accountability without authority is as
preposterous as authority with no accountability.  However, together they form the foundation for involvement.  One
without the other leads to “disconnect”.


Timing is the most frequently cited barrier to moving forward, typically “too soon.”  Timing is critical.  The process
of change has both
parallel and sequential elements.  If something is out of sequence, the timing definitely is not
right.  Tactics before strategy or actions before design are both hard examples.  Soft examples are moving forward
without commitment, or saying yes to too much and overrunning the capabilities of the organization.

When an organization confronts timing issues, the discipline necessary is to determine not only the immediate cause
but also the root cause is essential.  Organizations that find themselves continually restrained from taking action by
timing have something deeper at work that until dealt with, timing will continue to recur as a barrier.  

The other side of too soon, is too late.  Competition is not standing still, nor are market and customer expectations.  
Too late is not a reason to stop moving forward unless it really is an end game situation.  Discovering why things got
to a state like this, and then taking action around the cause so everyone knows what was done and put in place so
they will never find themselves in a predicament like this again, is essential.  

The table of success has three legs, I know, I can, I will.  “I know” is about understanding expectations and ones
own role and the role of others in getting things done.  “I can” is about having the required resources including time,
training, and access to others in order to do what is expected.  “I will” is a matter of personal choice when one knows
what is expected and is able to do it.

Accountability for “I know” and “I can” lies with leadership.  Providing clarity and aligned strategies and tactics within
the capabilities of the organization is critical.  It is an easy trap to say yes.  Nevertheless, when leadership says yes to
initiatives, strategy and tactics that go beyond the “
stretch” capability of the organization, all that is left is
breakdown”. Organizations discovering themselves in a bind and hard pressed to catch-up frequently become
victims of the "yes syndrome".  Reality is that when one says yes to one thing, of necessity they are saying no to a
myriad of other alternatives.  Nothing thwarts an organization’s progress more than dealing with profuse well-
intentioned yes’s.  No is as strategic as yes.

If a leader does not check and see how things are going, what is he or she saying?  The voice that leads an
organization is the action of its leaders.  Declarations, etc. are only loud bells that draw organizational attention.  
Without supporting action and attention, the voice that leads falls silent.  Auditing is a two-way system.  It not only
allows real time access to the efficiency, effectiveness, and correctness of a decision, but it also signals those involved
that what they are doing is important.

“What gets measured gets done.”  Measurements define an organization.  Assessment is measurement.  What an
organization measures determines the scope and nature of the problems it sees.  The problems it sees determine the
solutions it works on.  What an organization works on determines what an organization does.  What an organization
does defines what an organization is.   
Metrics are strategic.  Metric mania can be fatal.  Metrics that cascade down
from vision to action provide standards, context, and direction, and are fundamental to successful change.
I’m too busy.
Theory is different than practice.
It‘s not in the budget.
It does not agree with our policy.
We already tried that.
Can’t you think of something better
than that?
Oak Leaf Consulting, LLC