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Role of leadership in change management

Bolden (2004) differentiated between leadership and management based on their approaches to change management.

Kotter (1990: 104) claims that ‘management is about coping with complexity’ while ‘leadership is about coping with change’.

Coping with change is very important in today’s competitive business environment as organisational leaders have come to realise that:

  • Organisational change is constant
  • Leading change is one of the most difficult responsibilities they have

It is very important for leaders to manage change effectively by assuming the role of chief architect to champion the change initiative (Nadler, Thies and Nadler 2001). If organisational leaders do not assume this role, there is a great possibility for the change to fail. 

Cartwright and Cooper (1993) claim that it is also the role of the leaders to engage and involve all employees at all levels during change management. If the employees are not involved and engaged in the change program, they will not share the vision and mission of change, which may lead to the failure of the change initiative.

Bass (1985) professed that leaders must develop a shared vision during a change process. Bass and Avolio (1994) added that the theories of transformational leadership posits that change is more likely to be accomplished if the leaders share the vision of the organisation and the need to change with their followers.

Kouzes and Posner (1987: 30) believe that, when organisations are facing change, the leadership would ‘mobilize others to want to struggle for shared aspirations’. Therefore, leadership is crucial in change management within organisation.


Bass, B.M. (1985) ‘Model of Transformational Leadership’. in T.F. Mech and G.B. McCabe (Eds.), Leadership and Academic Librarians 66–82

Bass, B.M. and Avolio, B.J. (1994) Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Bolden, R. (2004) The Future of Leadership: Synopsis of Initial Windsor Meeting Reports from September 2003 – May 2004. Report for the Windsor Leadership Trust, Centre for Leadership Studies, Exeter: August 2004

Cartwright, S and Cooper, C.L (1993) ‘The Role of Culture Compatibility in Successful Organizational Marriage’. Academy of Management Executive 7: 57‐70

Kotter, J. P. (1990) ‘What Leaders Really Do’. Harvard Business Review May-June, 103-111

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (1995) The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Nadler, D. A., P. K. Thies and M. B. Nadler. (2001) ‘Culture Change in the Strategic Enterprise: Lessons from the Field’. in: C. L. Cooper, S. Cartwright and P. C. Earley, The International Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate John Wiley and Sons Ltd, Chichester

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This article is from the free online course:

Leadership Theory: The Basics

Coventry University