Skills And Competencies Of Change Leaders Management Essay

This essay analysed the skills and competencies of change leaders with the support of literature references and real life examples. Later, the essay focussed on the challenges of change leaders during the implementation of their skills and competencies on change processes, and how these skills and competencies are varying across different levels of leaders in an organization. Finally, the conclusion is drawn on the basis of critical analyses on change leadership and identified the possibility of acting as a change leader by anyone.


For the past two decades, the amount of significant change that the organizations faced in order to survive has tremendously increased, and many of the researchers argued that this situation will continue and demand more of future leaders (Wren & Dulewicz, 2005; Senge et al., 2002). Leadership is such a crucial component for undergoing these changes, and identifying the key components of leadership is important for the success of these transformation efforts (Beer & Nohria, 2000). Kotter (1996) considered that, leadership is the key to creating and sustaining the successful organization, because it helps the organization to shape its future and sustain its growth. In addition, leadership competencies are also essential to lead the change processes in an effective way (Christensen & Overdorf, 2000). According to Sanchez et al., (1996), leadership competencies have a cognitive aspect, in terms of knowledge and skills the leader possesses, and an action aspect that enables a leader to deploy their competencies in a coordinated manner. Leaders’ competencies and skills will influence the actions, structures and processes that enhance the change and it further strengthen the effectiveness in implementing change (Gilley et al., 2009). This essay will critically analyse whether anyone can adapt these leadership skills and competencies which is necessary to be a successful change leader. The analysis will be done based on the references of academic research that has been already conducted in this field.

Necessary Skills and Competencies to be a change leader

Leadership is different from management; leadership complements management but it does not replace it. Because management is about coping with complexity but the leadership is about coping with change (Kotter, 1990).

The leadership-skill requirements will vary based on the leaders’ positions and their levels. The most important skills where the leaders need to be possessed are cognitive skills, business skills, strategic skills and interpersonal skills. Across all the leadership levels cognitive skills are founded to be more important. In addition, interpersonal skills are required for a leader in greater degree than business or strategic skills (Sparks & Gentry, 2008). For example) during the group work on simulation game, the leader of the successful team had contributed a great part by understanding the views of the team members and through the organization of team meeting. This helped the team to bring out fruitful ideas and plans uniquely and also it helped the group leaders to emphasize their cognitive and interpersonal skills effectively. Compared to other skills, the significance of business and strategic skills is more required for the leaders in managerial level (Sparks & Gentry, 2008).

Possessing these leadership skills in change management has been linked to bringing about effective and successful organization change. Although, some of the factors are considered as the barriers for the success of the change, they are lack of understanding of change implementation techniques and the inability to alter one’s leadership style or organization functions (Bossidy & Charan, 2002; Gilley, 2005). The other barriers identified by the analysis include the inability of the leaders to motivate others to change, poor communication skills, and failure to reward or recognize the individuals who make the effort to change (Kotter, 1996). Hence the ability to understand and manage the change processes is valued as a necessary capability of change leaders. Many of the scholars defined this ability as a social intelligence skill, which is the ability to understand one’s own and others’ feelings, behaviours and thoughts in interpersonal situations and to respond appropriately, which includes emotional ability (Burke, 2002).

Finally, leaders’ thoughts and skills are manifested through the actions of implementing change across the organization. In this stage, the leaders need to be aware about avoiding coordination issues when the different functional groups in an organization work on a common task. Because lack of coordination will raise conflicts in implementing change and it reduce the success (Kuhl et al., 2005). For example, while working for the multi-product task, the lack of coordination across the leaders from different departments affected the implementation of change. There were lot of conflicts aroused in allocating the budget across each department of the organization and hence it led to the ineffective change implementation.

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As per Zaccaro (2002), effective leadership requires social reasoning skills to understand, judge and diagnose social situations accurately, and relational competencies to respond to the change and manage them successfully. Since change implementation involves the understanding of multiple level of people (i.e., individual, group and organizational), social-emotional competency is regarded to have a direct impact on the capacity to lead change. It acts as a greater predictor of leading change than managing complexity. Social-emotional competency includes observing the employees’ views, providing constructive feedback, encouraging the cooperation among team members, maintaining effective interpersonal relationships with others and treating others with respect to regardless of their position or rank (Mathew, 2009). For example) while working for the simulation game, in some of the groups, there was a long debate happened among the team members about the implementation of change strategies with different views and hence conflicts aroused. The leaders of those teams were also failed to maintain cooperation within the team. This led them to choose inappropriate change strategies and directed towards failure to reach their target. But while enquiring the team who reached the target, I came to knew that the team leader had delegated the roles to each team members based on their knowledge about the game and by providing constructive feedback on their views. This helped them to maintain a good cooperation within the team without giving the ways for any conflicts and also it provided a way to reach their target within the time limit and budget.

Within a change specific context Higgs and Rowland (2000, 2001) indicated a cluster of change leadership competencies associated with coaching and developing others. In addition, Giglio et al. (1998) also emphasized the importance of leaders’ coaching role in the change process. Because a good leader should motivate their employees in order to make them aware of the change process. This will be done by providing appropriate coaching to them. According to Hudson (1999), coaching skills enable leaders to approach situations from new perspectives and to question the status quo. Moreover, the leaders who coach their employees can enhance their renewal capacity and resilience, which has significant influence on organizational success. Finally and more importantly it allows others to make and learn from mistakes.

Huq (2006) argued that the leadership competencies can help to create the six sigma cadre in an organization. He argued that the personal and corporate competencies play a vital role in creating this six sigma cadre. Personal competencies include the technical knowledge and charisma of the leader. Whilst the corporate competencies include the combinations of skills and knowledge or experience that enable a leader to implement the change program successfully. However, the available evidence shows that, even the experienced leaders were deviated from these competencies in some circumstances. The most recent examples of sudden corporate implosions (Enron, Lehman Brothers) have apparently raised concerns about the nature and influence of bad leadership. Higgs (2009) have identified that the causes of this leadership failure were due to combination of personal flaws and performance shortfalls. While exploring this concept, he also identified a range of causal factors for these implosions which are skill deficiencies, being insensitive to others, betraying trust, arrogance and being overly ambitious. He argued that the personal flaws were more vital than skill deficiencies as drivers of derailment.

Finally, Northouse (2010) emphasized the importance of charismatic/value-based leadership in change management. Value-based leadership reflects the ability to inspire, motivate and to expect significant performance from others on the basis of core values of the change process. This kind of leadership comprises being visionary, decisive, inspirational, trustworthy, self-sacrificing and performance oriented. The powerful example of value-based leadership is the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi.

Challenges on implementing leadership Skills and Competencies during change

Initiating and managing organizational change is a significant challenge for today’s leaders. The leader’s role in change process is to make their employees to understand about the need of change. Understanding organizational change involves analysing types of change within the organization. No matter its size, any change has a ripple effect on an organization (Gilley et al., 2009). At the macro level, frequent organizational change focus on strategy and business models, technology, product and services, structure, processes, culture, acquisitions or expansion or downsizing (Lewis, 1994).Consequently, it challenges the leaders of all level in an organization in terms of managing the complexity of the change (Biech, 2007).

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One of the challenges that good leaders often face is solving the unsatisfactory performance of the staff in an effective way. Leaders who failed to clarify their expectation to employees and to respond openly against the performance problems are considered to be an ineffective leader (Redfern, 2008). While working on the multi- product task, in some of the groups, the leaders did not clearly respond against the performance problems of their team members. It is not possible to expect all the members in a group to work effectively, but the leaders could give prior instructions to the each individual about their expectation from them. Hence many of the groups lacked the complete participation of all the members in their team. As an effective leader, they should make all the team members to get involved in a work to achieve success.

The crucial challenge that many of the leaders consider is the resistance to change, and it have a noticeable impact and influence upon the success of an organizational change project. Resistance is commonly regarded as a behaviour which is not congruent with the attempts of the change leader (Bartunek, 1993). In this case, the leaders should analyse the resistance from motivational perspective and, more particularly, from an identity-based perspective, that is examining the employee attitudes to the change and their own attitudes to the resistance (Dijk & Dick, 2009).

Some of the literature evidence suggests that changing organizational behaviour is the fundamental challenge for a leader while leading organizational change (Argyris, 1993; Kotter & Kohen, 2002; Burke, 2002). Burke (2002) emphasized that leaders should deal with competition for resources, power and political dynamics; dispel resistance; and exemplify desired behaviour change. Finally and more importantly, the distinctive feature that leaders need to possess is the ability to identify the right person for the right job and to train employees to succeed at their jobs. To succeed consistently, good leaders need to be skilled not just in evaluating people but also in evaluating the abilities and disabilities of their firm as a whole.

During change implementation the leader must ensure that the right message has been communicated through right approach. Implementation is perhaps the most adverse phase of change. In this stage, communication plays a significant role during the throes of the implementation phase. Without an effective human communication, the change process cannot be implemented successfully. Hence the implementation of change challenges communication skills of a leader (Russ, 2008). In addition to communication challenge, the leaders may also face the challenge on time constraints to implement the change. This kind of challenge impacts the success of the change process, because a change process which is not completed in time budget cannot be considered as a successful process (Meyer & Stensaker, 2006). For example) during the simulation game, many of the groups were not able to reach the specified target in time. Hence the teams which did not meet the target in time were considered as unsuccessful teams.

An effective leader used to display effective leadership behaviours in order to reduce the stress on change work, such as coordination with other leaders in an organization, concern for wellbeing of the staff, frankness and willingness to involve in two-way feedback, and self-awareness. They recognize and give importance to effort of others in an organization and support their initiatives. They will share problems, engage colleagues in their solutions, and try to achieve the goal in a way that further problems do not arise (Redfern, 2008). But in real-time implementation, conflicts may arise between the change leaders of different departments or between the change leaders and employees. However, it can be avoid using open communication and through mutual coordination (Higgs, 2009). For example) even when implementing the multi-product task, such kind of misunderstanding aroused between the leaders from different departments due to different leadership behaviours. But the conflict could be avoided by focussing towards the organization’s objective rather than focussing on leaders’ departmental objectives. This could be done through effective negotiation and careful consideration of organization’s current key change requirements.

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The central aspects of the change leadership are creation and promotion of commitment and trust. It is the leader’s role to bring conditions for learning by stimulating fruitful conversations. Fruitful conversation can take place only when the relationships are characterised by trust, commitment and integrity. Hence the challenge of change leadership is promoting commitment, trust and integrity in firms. Obviously, change leaders cannot promote these qualities unless they themselves possess these qualities (Nilakant & Ramnarayan, 2006).

The managers who focus solely on managerial tasks may fail to provide strong leadership or to sustain the performance. Because over management of employees could lead to impairment of motivation (Redfern, 2008). Hence the leaders should learn to acknowledge the sustainability challenges and then develop appropriate skills and competencies to meet those challenges (Ferdig, 2007).

Leadership skills of different levels

Based on the literature references on change leadership, many of the researchers suggests that, an effective leadership depends on three basic personal skills, they are technical, inter-personal and conceptual skills. Technical skill is knowledge about specific type of work or activity and the inter-personal skill is ability to work with people. Finally, conceptual skills are abilities to work with different ideas and concepts. Leaders from different management level require different proportion of these basic skills. Leaders from top management level mainly require inter-personal and conceptual skills rather than technical skills, whereas the leaders from supervisory management level require greater proportion of technical and inter-personal skills than conceptual skills. But the leaders from middle management level require all these three basic skills in equal proportion (Katz, 1955; Northouse, 2010).

As per the research conducted by Sparks and Gentry (2008), leading employees towards change and resourcefulness were found to be important for leaders across different managerial levels. Leading employees towards change includes setting clear performance expectations, delegating the change work to employees based on their skills and being patient and fair with employees. Resourcefulness includes being a strategic thinker; being a flexible problem solver during any stage of change implementation; understanding and working efficiently with top management.

Charismatic leadership usually emphasize the leaders at top management level during change (Waldman et al., 2004). But some of the literature evidences implies that not only top-executives can motivate employees by formulating a compelling vision or by providing a behavioural role model, but also non-executives at lower management levels can possess charismatic leadership during change (Michaelis et al., 2009; Seyranian & Bligh, 2008).


The above analyses and findings revealed that effective leaders should possess cognitive skills, business skills, and strategic skills for the successful implementation of change. But the available evidences show that, even the experienced skilled leaders have failed to possess the above leadership skills in certain circumstances. The corporate implosions of Enron and Lehman Brothers were illustrating the same. In addition, during the simulation game, many of the team leaders were not able to lead their team towards success. This was due to lot of conflicts and misconception prevailed within the team while implementing the change strategies. Apart from this, some of the barriers also exist against change leaders which impacts the change processes directly. They are lack of understanding of coordination in team, poor communication, inability to identify the right person for the right job and inability to motivate others.

And the analysis on leadership competencies shows that the social-emotional competency has a significant impact on leading change across the organization. However, many of the challenges exist in implementing the leadership skills and competencies during change. They are resistance to change, changing the organizational behaviour, communication challenge, time constraint challenge, and finally challenge in promoting trust, commitment and integrity in organizations. While working on multi-product task, the team leaders were faced these kinds of challenges in implementing the change.

Hence, these kinds of issues, barriers and challenges on change raised the question that whether anyone can act as a leader during change. Because, the above analyses and evidences shows that many of team leaders often faced issues while implementing the change and even the experienced leaders were also failed to lead the change effectively at some situations. So it is not possible for anyone to be a successful leader of change. The skills, competencies and behaviour of a person can only determine whether they can act a change leader or not.

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