Change Leadership: A Required Skill for Future-Ready Leaders

Managing change is inherently different from leading it. Change is inevitable... don't be left behind without this essential skill.

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"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." This insight from John C. Maxwell, renowned leadership expert, underscores a fundamental truth in business today. 

As businesses respond to market demands, technological advancements, or internal restructuring, effective change leadership becomes crucial. In such times, employees look to their leaders not only for reassurance but also for clear guidance. 

For leaders to successfully navigate their organizations through challenging periods and restore a sense of stability, they require strategic vision, persuasive communication skills, and the ability to foster resilience amidst uncertainty. 

Each year, connects thousands of learners with leadership-related education, courses, and insights. Leadership, in fact, is one of our most popular course categories. A search for "change leadership" on our platform returns over 400 related courses. (For more details, delve into our complete Course Trends Report.) 

Read on to learn about the principles, challenges, and essential skills of change leadership— and how critical your role is as a leader leading through transition. 

What is Change Leadership? 

Change leadership involves guiding an organization through substantial disruptions, transitions, or transformative phases. Unlike change management, which concentrates on operationalizing the change process, change leadership prioritizes people. The most effective change leaders excel in communication, priority-setting, and listening to the individuals who make up their organization. 

"You don't lead by hitting people over the head, that's assault, not leadership." - Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Change Leadership vs. Change Management 

There’s managing change, and there’s leading it.  

Change leadership and change management are both crucial for navigating organizational transformations, yet they serve distinct roles. Change management focuses on the operational aspects of implementing change, such as planning, processes, and execution. It involves systematic approaches to ensure changes are smoothly and effectively integrated within the organization.  

On the other hand, change leadership is about creating an engine of driving guidance and inspiration for large-scale ambitions. It addresses the human side of change, emphasizing vision, motivation, and communication. Change leadership centers on engaging and supporting employees, fostering a culture of adaptability and possibility.  

Both are essential. Change management provides the structured framework necessary for implementation, but change leadership ensures that the organization's people are aligned and committed to the change.  

Why is leading effectively through change important? 

Without effective leaders leading the charge for change, ambitions are just words. An effective change leader transforms the mission into meaningful, daily business practices and empowers the organization with a shared purpose.  

Those in leadership positions are crucial in ensuring that team members grasp the benefits and new opportunities brought about by change, in addition to embracing and successfully implementing it. In effect, to increase organizational buy-in and commitment, a successful change leader will: 

  • Motivate Team Members: Change leadership sets objectives that motivate employees to embrace and adapt to change. 
  • Create a Roadmap: Leaders create a comprehensive plan for change, detailing the nature of the change and its impact on individuals. 
  • Enhance Support: Employees feel more supported when leadership implements changes that consider their well-being. 
  • Address Issues: Change leadership effectively identifies problems and provides innovative solutions. 

4 Key Principles of Change Leadership: What Makes a Great Change Leader? 

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has identified key skills that lead both the process and the people parts of change. These four skills are integral to effective change leadership: 

1. Communication 

Successful change leaders explain both the "what" of change and the "why". They connect the purpose of change to the organization’s values and benefits to create stronger buy-in and urgency.  

2. Collaboration 

Unifying your team to plan and execute change is crucial. Effective change leaders collaborate across boundaries and encourage teamwork. They make team members feel included in the change process by involving them in decision-making early on. Thereby enhancing commitment to the change.  

3. Commitment 

Successful change leaders ensure their own beliefs and actions support the change. They focus on the broader picture to adapt to the challenges, display positivity, and show patience with delays. Importantly, they demonstrate persistence and willingness to step outside their comfort zone. 

4. Resilience 

Navigating people through complex changes—even positive ones-- is challenging and can be draining for both employees and leaders alike. Therefore, resilience is also a critical skill of successful change leaders. Those spearheading change must be prepared to bolster their own mental and physical health to sustain themselves through the long duration needed for transition. Resilience enables leaders to manage the inherent pressure, uncertainty, and setbacks that come with change... not to mention to serve as role models to team members.  

These skills—communication, collaboration, commitment, and resilience—are essential for helping leaders navigate and succeed in challenging transformational processes. 

"Every change forces all the companies in an industry to adapt their strategies to that change." - Bill Gates 

Types of Change: When to use Change Leadership 

Organizational change manifests in various forms. Technological advancements, restructuring, and cultural transformation are just a few examples. Diverse types of change necessitate different leadership skills. 

Embracing technological advancements involves incorporating new tools and processes to drive efficiency and foster innovation. The pandemic's accelerated digital transformation, which surged by an average of 6%, serves as a notable example of this shift. In fact, the surge in digitalization saved many firms during the pandemic thanks to remote work and expanded online operations.  

Effective leadership in this realm requires fostering a culture of experimentation and continuous learning to navigate evolving technologies successfully.  

Restructuring is a common change that typically involves organizational redesign to streamline operations. In this case, leadership must communicate the rationale behind changes transparently, manage employee concerns, and provide support throughout the transition.  

Cultural transformation is one that often takes place because of a merger or acquisition. Norms, values, and behaviors within an organization shift or need to shift. Leaders play a crucial role in modeling desired cultural attributes, aligning organizational values with actions, and empowering employees to embrace change.  

In all these types of change, effective leadership is pivotal for driving successful implementation and ensuring long-term organizational resilience and growth. 

How to Lead Change 

By now, we understand that leading change requires clear vision, effective communication, and proactive engagement with stakeholders. It involves fostering a culture of adaptability and resilience. But transformation will not occur without hiccups or controversy. 

Common Challenges to Change 

Leading change can be challenging for several reasons. One common challenge is resistance from employees who may be reluctant to embrace change due to fear of the unknown or concerns about how it will impact their roles. Uncertainty about the organization's change outcomes and future direction can also pose challenges.  

Strategies for Overcoming Change Resistance 

Change leaders must manage these uncertainties by providing clear communication and guidance. Additionally, varying stakeholder expectations and desires must be managed. Effective change leadership involves addressing these challenges proactively, fostering open communication, and demonstrating empathy to guide the organization through successful transformation. 

Communication and Engagement: 

  • Communicate the reasons for change clearly and frequently. 
  • Engage with employees early and involve them in the change process. 
  • Address concerns and questions openly and transparently. 

Education and Support: 

  • Provide training and resources to help employees develop the skills needed for the change. 
  • Offer support and guidance to employees as they navigate through the change. 
  • Demonstrate empathy and understanding towards employees' fears and uncertainties. 

Leadership and Role Modeling: 

  • Lead by example and demonstrate commitment to the change. 
  • Align organizational culture and policies to support the change. 
  • Encourage and recognize employees who embrace the change and contribute positively to its implementation. 

These strategies help create a supportive environment where employees are more likely to accept and embrace the changes being implemented. 

"I am always ready to learn although I do not like always being taught." - Winston Churchill 

Tips for Developing Change Leadership Skills 

According to a Korn-Ferry study, 69% of investors think leadership will be more critical for company success in the next three years due to the need for transformation. If you are not a future-ready leader, then you and your organization face a huge problem.  

Any lack of perceived skills, though, is surmountable through training.  

Effective change leaders are curious, lifelong learners who actively seek growth and development. They continually update their knowledge and skills, exploring new experiences, perspectives, and innovative ideas. This pursuit of knowledge keeps these leaders ahead of the curve, driving innovation and progress. 

Moreover, successful change leaders inspire others by fostering a culture that values continuous growth and development. They lead by example, encouraging lifelong learning practices throughout their organizations. 

Self-reflection is crucial for effective change leaders because it promotes personal growth and development, enhances emotional intelligence, and fosters a mindset of continuous improvement. It allows leaders to assess their strengths and weaknesses, understand how their actions impact others, and learn from experiences to make informed decisions. By staying true to their values and principles, change leaders build trust and credibility, guiding their team through challenges with empathy and resilience. 

Successful change leaders move beyond merely managing change to actively leading it. The future holds an endless stream of changes that companies will need to navigate. Effective leaders are essential to spearhead these changes and thrive in a perpetually evolving market. 

Ready to lead the change you want to see? 

Be ready for any disruption. Become an effective change leader.
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Rama Eriksson

Digital Content Editor (more)
Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010. (less)


Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.