A Primer on Transformational Change

There is both a leadership and a management component to change. Change management implies we need to use logic, like putting together a budget or a PowerPoint presentation. This type of thinking results in the strange phenomenon of executives issuing a memo as a persuasive tool.

4 Skill-sets make all the difference. And one needs to Dare to Be Great

Resistance to transformational change functions partly at an irrational, unconscious level. This makes change management an oxymoron like a resident alien, business ethics, and humble CEO. Any major change brings up numerous defense mechanisms and strong emotions such as fear.

Many managers fail to realize that the authority they exercise so ably within the confines of the status quo fails miserably when faced with the uncertainties and fears inherent in dealing with a transformational change. While leaders understand this, many managers do not.

Five Contexts For Transformational Change

” Changing is like bailing a boat — you must keep at it to stay afloat.” — Murray Johannsen

The Organizational Level

“The productivity and competitive problems American manufactures face result from ineffective top management, petrified in place, unwilling to accept change, failing to provide vision and leadership.” — Phillip Alspach, President, Intercom, Inc., Harvard Business Review, November/December 1986

The greatest challenge management faces are leading change in some aspect of organizational performance. Fundamentally an organization that is not growing, is usually declining. Leading change in this area requires finding a champion and mastering the basic tools associated with the field. 

Transformational Change at The Group Level

  • Q: How many cheerleaders does it take to change a light bulb?
  • A: Twelve…One to make the change and 11 to give her a hug.

One can’t turn a frog into the prince–just as calling a group a team doesn’t make it so. Building high-performance teams require leading according to sound principles of group dynamics and the skillful use of twelve types of interventions to build teams. Leading change in this area requires mastering techniques such as group facilitation and team-building methods. 

Change at the Interpersonal Level

  • Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
  • A: One, but the light bulb has really got to want to be changed.

Obedience to authority has grave limitations when it comes to change management at the interpersonal level. Leadership at this level is essentially a moment of truth between two human beings. Leading change means that managers must master the art of influence.

Transformational Change at The Level of Self

“The man that doesn’t change his mind doesn’t think.” — Freddie Laker, British businessman

Once when John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, was rebuked for changing his mind on some issue, he turned the tables on his accuser with a sharp reply: “Sir, when I learn new facts, I sometimes change my opinion. What do you do?” Even though people love to complain about the status quo, they rarely want to do anything about it. It takes a strong leader who can unlearn habits practiced over a lifetime. If you think another person is hard to change, try to change yourself and overcome self-mastery barriers.

The Level of Change in Strategy

“It does no good to have a map if you cannot follow it.” — M. Johannsen

A grasshopper decided to seek the advice of the wise owl about a personnel problem. Each winter the grasshopper suffered from the ravages of severe cold, shivering through a winter of low temperatures. All of the grasshopper’s known remedies were to no available so he laid the problem on the lap of the owl. After a period of consideration, the owl proscribed a solution, “Become a cricket, a beast which hibernates during the winter. Profusely thanking the owl, the grasshopper jumped away only to realized a little later he did not know how to turn into a cricket. Returning to the owl, he asked how to could make the change to which the owl replied, “Hey, I gave you the principle, you need to flesh out the details.”

Leadership characteristics such as persistence, perseverance, and dogged determination are not enough for success in leading change–you must also follow a sound strategy. One aspect of strategy has to do with competitive strategy and how to deal with the competition. Sun Tzu and The Art of War is a classic example.

Articles Focused on  Change

Leading and Motivating Change. This article is by a couple of Pepperdine professors discuss six practical aspects of any change process. Professors being professors, tend to focus on the logic of change management, rather than the paradigms underlying the concept of leading change.

 Leading Change as a CEO. For those of us who like the meat and not the sizzle, this page covers a set of key principles for leading change. There are even a few ideas on why change fails.

Jokes on Change

An advertising team is working very late at night on a project due the next morning. Suddenly, a Genie appears before them and offers to each of them one wish. The copywriter says: “I’ve always dreamed of writing the great American novel and having my work studied in schools across the land. I’d like to go to a tropical island where I can concentrate and write my masterpiece.” The Genie says, “No problem!” and poof! The copywriter is gone. The art director says: “I want to create a painting so beautiful that it would hang in the Louvre Museum in Paris for all the world to admire. I want to go to the French countryside to work on my painting.” The Genie says, “Your wish is granted!” and poof! The art director is gone. The Genie then turns to the account executive and says, “And what is your wish?” The account executive says, “I want those two back here right now.”


The patient shook his doctor’s hand in gratitude and said, “Since we are the best of friends, I would not want to insult you by offering payment. But I would like for you to know that I had mentioned you in my will.” “That is very kind of you,” said the doctor emotionally, and then added, “Can I see that prescription I just gave you? I’d like to make a little change…”


The other day at work I ran into Bob. We chatted over lunch and he dropped a bombshell on me. “Rodney,” he said, “Becky and I are going to get a divorce”. I was stunned. “Why? What happened, you two seem so happy together” “Well,” he said, “ever since we got married, my wife has tried to change me. She got me to stop drinking, smoking, running around at all hours of the night, and more. She taught me how to dress well, enjoy the fine arts, gourmet cooking, classical music, and how to invest in the stock market.” “Are you a little bitter because she spent so much time trying to change you.” I probed. “Nah, I’m not bitter. Now that I’m so improved, she just isn’t good enough for me.”

Quotes on Change

“Resisting change is like holding your breath, if you persist, you die.” —Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.” — Washington Irving, 1783-1859, American essayist and novelist, Tales of a Traveler

“Only the wisest and the stupidest of men never change.” — Confucious, 551?-479? B.C. Analects

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” — Winston Churchill, 1974-1965, English Prime Minister, writer, soldier, Speech, House of Commons, 1925

“All organizations do change when put under sufficient pressure. This pressure must be either external to the organization or the result of very strong leadership.” — Bruce Henderson, CEO, Boston Consulting Group, Inc, Henderson on Corporate Strategy (Abit, 1979)

Change Teaching Stories

My Poor Foot

A woman is out looking for a pet, and so she’s trying the local pet shops. She walks into a small pet shop and explains her need to the attendant. He thinks for a moment and then says, “I’ve got just the thing for you madam. I’ll just get him.”
With that, he disappears into the back of the shop and returns a few seconds later with a cute little puppy. “This dog is a special dog,” he tells her. “It can fly,” he explains, and with that throws the dog into the air. It immediately begins to float gracefully around the shop.
” There is one problem with him, however. Whenever you say ‘my apple’ he’ll eat whatever you’ve mentioned.” The lady watches in astonishment as the dog zooms over to the shop attendant and furiously devours an apple he has produced from his pocket.
” He’s cute and so unusual. I’ll take him,” she says, and a few minutes later she is on her way back home with the dog to show her husband.
” Darling, look what a clever pet I bought today!” she exclaims when she gets back home. “He can fly!”
The husband peers at the dog, and then remarks, “Fly eh? My foot!” Lessoned Learned: Change brings discomfort.

The Parable of the Boiled Frog

If you put a frog in a pail very hot water, it will jump out. However, if one puts the same animal in a pot of water at room temperature, it will not be able to detect the rising temperature and will boil to death. Moral of the Story: Imperceptible change can be dangerous.

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