Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How to create successful Change Leadership


Guest post by Braden Kelley

Change efforts are an expedition, a sometimes perilous journey that must be collaborative. And in our ‘always-on’ society, where the pace of change has accelerated to a point where we as humans can barely cope, our old metaphors of burning platforms and melting icebergs are becoming irrelevant. Change is becoming a constant.


As such, we as change leaders must build a foundation, a capability of continuous change for our organizations. It is important to note that Change Management and Change Leadership are two very different roles for people to play in any organization, but both are important and so have found a home in my Five Keys to Successful Change™ framework along with:

  • Change Planning
  • Change Maintenance
  • Change Portfolio Management

Change Leadership

Many good leadership books are available to help you with advice on the topic of Change Leadership. In this article I would like to highlight some of John Kotter’s lesser known but most important work and thoughts from a few of the guest expert contributors to my new book Charting Change.

Change Leaders mind the blind spots

According to Charting Change guest expert Matthew E May:

“Your change strategy seems airtight on paper. But as the saying goes, no strategy survives first contact with the enemy. Generally, that’s because multiple assumptions have been folded into your strategy—unconscious leaps of faith you’ve made in your natural enthusiasm and optimistic outlook. If not attended to, teased out, made transparent, and tested in the real world, these leaps may indeed become the very blind spots that will render your strategy a fun but ultimately academic thought experiment. The best technique I’ve found to bring assumptions out into the open is a single but powerful question: What must be true?”

Leading change in the face of resistance

Change leaders must learn to recognize the many different ways people will try to defeat the change effort (or, at a minimum, to resist it). The change leadership team then must work together to craft thoughtful responses that take the sting out of the change and help to create buy-in instead. John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in their book Buy-in did a great job highlighting how people often seek to kill change efforts utilizing tactics such as confusion, ridicule, delay, and fear-mongering, supported by phrases like:

  • “It’s too simplistic to work.”
  • “This is not the right time.”
  • “We tried it before, and it didn’t work.”

When change leadership teams are prepared for resistance, their odds of guiding their change effort successfully increase.

Selling change

According to Charting Change guest expert Brett Clay:

“People must make an affirmative decision to take action in support of the change or at least not to oppose it if the initiative is to be implemented successfully. Therefore, one role of a change agent is to ‘sell’ the change to stakeholders.”

One mistake I’ve seen over and over in my professional practice is that people often feel pressured to initiate a change quickly. However, taking extra time at the start will help maintain the momentum of the change initiative, and overcome the challenges and setbacks that will inevitably occur in the implementation stages.

Go ahead and be enthusiastic, tenacious, and communicative. If you pair your urgency and tenacity with listening, you will become a truly effective and efficient leader of change!

Successful Change Leadership skills

We often talk about the importance of leadership. But, how is leadership in a change context different? Here are nine essential skills every effective change leadership team should possess:

  1. Position Power
  2. Expertise
  3. Credibility
  4. Connectedness
  5. Political Savvy
  6. Influence
  7. Leadership Ability
  8. Evangelism
  9. Accountability/Ownership

Clarify expectations

According to Charting Change guest expert Tanveer Naseer:

“All of us have natural apprehensions regarding change because of the inherent uncertainty accompanying change, uncertainty about what we’ll experience going forward.”

That’s why when you’re communicating your change initiative to your employees, you need to provide clarity as to what the change will look like in practice. You need to explain what your employees should expect from you as things progress and, in particular, how you’ll respond to potential obstacles they might come across as the process continues.”

Successful change

Charting ChangeThe success of a change effort depends not on achieving quick wins, but on maintaining consistent, positive, forward momentum throughout all of the transitions. Momentum beats quick wins, and engaging in a collaborative change planning method like the one described in Charting Change will lead you to more successful change efforts.

What change are you hoping to successfully lead to completion? You can leave a comment below.

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, builds sustainable innovation cultures, and tools for creating successful change. He is the author of the five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and the creator of the revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Twitter (@innovate) and Linkedin.

The Product Management Perspective: Change is a constant for product managers, without it your products die on the vine. You’re in the perfect position to become the change leader, the one the company relies on to move its products in the right direction. Charting Change is a great resource to help you in this effort.

10 thoughts on “How to create successful Change Leadership

  1. “No strategy survives first contact with the enemy.”
    Or, as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the face.”

    • Good point Leo, thanks for stopping by.

    • That’s also very true, and that’s the reason why it’s important to have tools that visualize the plan and support the iteration that comes with the territory. The Change Planning Toolkit™ was designed to for collaboration and iteration – getting people literally all on the same page (and then keeping them there) – and is introduced in my new book ‘Charting Change’. 🙂

      More info at http://charting-change.com

  2. What I’ve discovered is to find the ones that are willing and able to do it first. Then the ones that are willing but unable due to other constraints. And hopefully, you’ll be able to convince the ones that aren’t willing when they see the change is actually working.

    • Definitely one good strategy for reaching a tipping point of adoption, but you’ll want to identify your different groups, your different messages, and your different strategies upfront as part of your plan. There are frameworks in the book ‘Charting Change’ to help with this and worksheets in the premium version of the toolkit to help with execution.

      Braden (@innovate)

  3. There is a critical 10th essential skills every effective change leadership team MUST possess: COMMITMENT. There can be no lasting change if there isn’t true commitment to that change.

    • That’s true. Good intentions don’t go a long way.

    • Commitment is a prerequisite to the success of any project or change effort. And after all, EVERY project is a change effort, because every project changes something.

      So, ensure you have commitment upfront before beginning, and a plan for maintaining it throughout the change effort. Quick wins are great, but having a plan for creating and maintaining momentum is more important.

      Braden (@innovate)

  4. Pingback: Change Management Leadership – saappadu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s