Leading vs Managing Change: A Classic Commentary & an Innovative Invitation – August 2018

If you’re dealing with big, massive changes right now (and who isn’t?), enjoy these sage observations by leadership guru John Kotter.  It’s been seven years since he wrote these words, and sadly most organizations have not heeded his even-more-relevant-today advice.  If his message resonates with you and you are seeking a path forward for yourself, your team, or your organization, check out my invitations for you, below.  Here goes:

There is a difference that is very fundamental, and it’s very big, between what is known today as “change management” and what we have been calling for some time “change leadership.” The world basically uses change management, which is a set of processes and a set of tools and a set of mechanisms that are designed to make sure that when you do try to make some changes, A, it doesn’t get out of control, and B, the number of problems associated with it—you know, rebellion among the ranks, bleeding of cash that you can’t afford–doesn’t happen. So it is a way of making a big change and keeping it, in a sense, under control. Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently. It’s more associated, therefore, with large scale changes. Change management tends to be more associated—at least, when it works well—with smaller changes.

If you look around the world right now and just talk to people, it’s not just semantics. Everybody talks about managing change and change management, because that’s what they do. If you look at all of the tools, they’re trying to push things along, but it’s trying to minimize disruptions, i.e., keep things under control. It’s trying to make sure change is done efficiently in the sense of you don’t go over budget—another control piece. It’s done with little change management groups inside corporations, sometimes external consultants that are good at that, training in change management. It’s done with task forces that are basically given the whole goal of push this thing along, but keep it under control. It’s done with various kinds of relationships that are given names like “executive sponsors,” where the executive sponsor watches over this thing to make sure that it proceeds in an orderly way.

And change leadership is just fundamentally different—it’s an engine. It’s more about urgency. It’s more about masses of people who want to make something happen. It’s more about big visions. It’s more about empowering lots and lots of people. Change leadership has the potential to get things a little bit out of control. You don’t have the same degree of making sure that everything happens in a way you want at a time you want when you have the 1,000 horsepower engine. What you want to do, of course, is have a highly skilled driver and a heck of a car, which will make sure your risks are minimum. But it is fundamentally different.

The world, as we all know right now, talks about, thinks about, and does change management. The world, as we all know, doesn’t do much change leadership, since change leadership is associated with the bigger leaps that we have to make, associated with windows of opportunity that are coming at us faster, staying open less time, bigger hazards and bullets coming at us faster, so you really have to make a larger leap at a faster speed. Change leadership is going to be the big challenge in the future, and the fact that almost nobody is very good at it is—well, it’s obviously a big deal.

John Kotter,
Change Management versus Change Leadership–
What’s the Difference? (Forbes, 2011)

If this message speaks to you, it does to me too.  I invite you to get in the driver’s seat and start your own engine.  The gap is too great, the stakes are too high, and failed or sub-optimized change continues to decimate companies and careers.  “Change management” models, methods and tools are necessary but not sufficient: we need models, methods, and tools to build our individual and collective capacity for “change leadership.”  Learning to lead change–not simply manage change-is why I created the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. 

Join me on the road to build individual and collective Change Intelligence, or CQ.  For each of us as individuals, CQ enables leading change with greater confidence and competence – and less stress and frustration.  Why?  Because it starts with ourselves as leaders (and we’re all leaders, regardless of tenure, title, or role) and helps us control the only thing we can in our V.U.C.A. world – our own mindsets and behaviors.  We are able to get past trying to “control others” and “overcome resistance” and “merely manage change,” and evolve into leaders equipped to partner together to take charge of change challenges and vault with velocity into an empowering future – of our own creation.  For organizations, CQ fosters a common language and approach to engage for change up, down, and across our enterprises, greatly enhancing the probability that we are driving together toward the same destination, engaging in deep dialogue beyond “just” managing spreadsheets and checking-the-boxes.


Here are some specific steps you can take to become an even more Change Intelligent leader, and learn about how to help your team and organization build CQ, right away:

  • Download two free chapters of my the book Change Intelligence – and while you’re at the website, investigate the other complementary resources too – case studies of people, teams and individuals that built CQ and the results they achieved; video and audio; and other tips and tools.
  • Register for a free webinar on Change Intelligence, in which you’ll learn how to diagnose and develop your CQ and walk away with actionable strategies you can apply on-the-job right away.  Even if you can’t attend live on September 24, you’ll receive a link to view the recording at your convenience.
  • Join me for the CQ Certification Program, designed to accelerate your ability to lead successful and sustainable change – and to provide you the coaching and resources to enhance the Change Leadership capabilities in the people you coach, teams you facilitate, and organizations you serve.  Since a new iteration of the program just opened, early bird discount pricing is available through September 30!
  • Attend any of the events I’m speaking at (listed in the left margin!) – I’d love to meet you, learn about your change challenges, and share ideas about how to become even more effective “drivers of the engine of change” together.

The bottom line – I implore you to get started today.  There IS something each of us can do – we can rev-up our engines, put the peddle to the metal, and get moving now.  Join me!