The role of leadership can best be understood in organizational change as a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Depending on the conceptualisation of organizational change you adopt, the leader’s role could be perceived to be a variety of things, from that of an initiator/visionary, the influencer of culture, a trigger for follower organizational identification, someone who redefines resistance, or a sense maker who introduces new discourses. The most useful approach can be to consider an issue from a number of different theoretical points of view before determining the most effective intervention.
Leadership has been conceived of in a multitude of different ways varying from Great man theory (Borgatta, Bales and Couch, 1954; Cawthon, 1996), trait theories (), and style theories (). More recent conceptualisations of leadership include contingency theory (), and transformational leadership (). Each of these theoretical models has a contribution to make in forming a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between leadership and organizational change and we shall explore how adopting a definition for leadership or organizational change infers the role of the other.
However we define leadership, the concepts of organizational change and leadership can be argued to be inextricably linked. If a leader was not able to effect any change within an organization then it is hard to imagine a way in which such a leader could be effective in their role. Thus organizational change is at the very heart of a leader’s role.
This paper will argue that a pluralist approach to understanding leadership’s role in organizational change possesses the greatest utility in informing practice. In doing so, it will present a number of different concepts of organizational change and consider the role of leadership in relation to each one.
If we assume that an organization has a stable existence, a trigger will, when inertia builds or is sustained for an extended period, eventually precipitate an episode of change. Huber et al. (1993) proposes that triggers of change come from at least five sources: the environment, performance, characteristics of top managers, structure, and strategy.
If we use the Lewin’s (1947) three stage conceptualisation of change (unfreeze, move, refreeze), the first role of the leader is one of sense making and initiation; first by identifying the need to engage in change (by observing some benefit to change) and then by determining the understanding they perpetuate of that change. Kotter’s (1995) first four steps in leading change make sense under Lewin’s unfreezing stage; creating a sense of urgency, forming a powerful guiding coalition, creating a vision and communicating a vision. In this framework, an effective leader would presumably select discourses that elicit urgency and communicate an alternative vision to initiate ‘unfreezing’. Under ‘moving’, Kotter’s (1995) sense of empowering others to act on the vision and planning for and...