The Unsung Heroes of Change

Where does real change leadership most likely come from in an organization?

Is it the top of the organization? Maybe. Senior leaders certainly have an important role but their impact is often overestimated. Consider these points.

  1. Change experts almost always complain of lack of senior leader alignment to the change initiative. Are they really leading change?
  2. Senior leaders are often the ones that built the status quo and are more politically at risk if the change effort fails. Do they want to lead change?
  3. Most senior leaders don’t have the personal bandwidth to get involved in all the lower level work in a transformation. Do they have the capacity to lead change?

Is it the bottom of the organization? Rarely. And for good reason. They aren’t in a “leadership” position and therefore don’thave the clout needed to lead change. They aren’t typically expected to lead change. And they aren’t responsible for leading change.

No, real change leadership comes from the middle: senior managers, directors, senior directors. These are the real heroes of change.They’re the ones that span gap between senior level leaders calling for change (but subtly resisting it) and lower level work practices; work practices that have become habitual and firmly entrenched. It’s the middle that bears the burden of leading change. But they should take heart. They also have the most to gain because they get to redefine the status quo and shape the future. 

Let’s call it like it is. Successful change leadership comes from the middle. Senior leaders would benefit the most by investing in them. Change experts need to spend more time helping them. We all need to be more thankful for them.