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Do You Need Change Management? Or Change Leadership?

(Hint: It may be both!)


As a forward-facing, make-it-better leader, throughout my career, I found myself in places of implementing new things in the places I worked. Things like mentoring programs for women in manufacturing  (before mentoring and DIEB were a thing) or installing new equipment in the pressroom that enabled us to sell into different markets. Or implementing a new way to select apprentices based on skills, not seniority.

I learned in the way most of us do: through trial and error. I developed some brilliant approaches, and I had my share of missteps. Yet with each one, I became more savvy about who to engage (and how), where resistance was likely to pop up, and how to get in front of it. I learned the hard way the value of having a senior leader provide ground cover for me, dealing with the complaints, foot-dragging, and inaction.

Then some magic happened. I was chosen to help lead a company-wide cultural change that included significant technical changes. As a part of that experience, I received top-notch training in change management methods from McKinsey and a culture change approach from Senn-Delaney.

As a result, things fell into place. The actions I had learned to do naturally now had a framework, tools, and methodologies. That was the beginning of my career journey to help others implement specific changes AND acquire the skills to lead in a time of continual and unrelenting change.

In 2010, after six years of consulting in change management (and successfully weathering seven SAP ERP implementations), I felt compelled to help leaders understand that in today’s world, that change was NOT a one-time event and that there were specific leadership skills that today’s times required. Change leadership is about the day-to-day actions that enable continual strategic adaptation.

Change leadership refers to the actions and behaviors that guide and inspire others through the change process. It involves setting a vision, inspiring and motivating others, and driving organizational change from a strategic perspective. Change leadership is more focused on the people side of change and aims to create a culture that embraces change and fosters innovation.


Change leadership skills include:

  • Casting a compelling vision that resonates individually
  • Continual communication with clarity and compassion
  • Empathic listening and responding appropriately
  • Building engagement and buy-in to the mission of the organization
  • Overcoming resistance and clinging to the past
  • Creating an environment of experimentation where failure is accepted as part of the process


In contrast, change management is a framework and methodology to create tangible plans to spur specific actions toward a distinct change event. You’ll want to employ change management methodology if you are in these situations:

  • Implementing an ERP or new technology
  • During M&A integrations
  • Organizational redesign or restructures
  • Process improvement
  • Strategic plan implementation.


Both change management and change leadership can work hand in hand, yet there are some key distinctions:

  • Change management is for a specific change; change leadership is on-going
  • Change management enables the adoption of ONE change; change leadership enables an environment of continual adaptation and agility (and therefore resiliency)
  • Change management is executing a plan; change leadership is engaging the people.
  • Change management seeks to plan and control; change leadership aims to adapt and empower


Leaders with change leadership skills approach change through a broader, more strategic lens. They understand that inspiring, encouraging, communicating, and supporting people in changing environments is vital to their role. They know that creating an environment where change is seen as an opportunity and not a threat will enable their organization to successfully flex, pivot, adapt, and ultimately survive in today’s fast and unrelenting change environment.


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