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Change Leadership: Are your leaders playing the right game?

Successful change leaders are more like hockey players than golfers. This article explains why.

A while ago I was working with a CEO in a large, change-dominated organisation. His Executive Team were all experts in their chosen professions. However, the new level of change intensity had exceeded the capability of his team. Leaders were doing their best to stay across all the changes, but they often felt overwhelmed by the complexity and retreated to the safety of their silos (where they felt more in control). 

Change leadership is like a game, so if you want great change leaders, they need to play the right game.

When we first met, my client had tried unsuccessfully to address the gap which was widening rapidly. My client's problem was that his leaders were playing the wrong change leadership game.


Several years earlier, the organisation's environment was more stable. When large changes came along, they were sequential - no more than three or four at a time. In those days, it made sense to treat change leadership as though it were a solo sport, like golf, because it could be undertaken by a single leader, and that individual would drive the change through the otherwise 'stable' organisation.

Change leadership is a team sport

In the last two years, however, my client's organisational environment had become more dynamic and change intensity had increased. It was now very difficult to differentiate between change and business-as-usual as they'd become layered on top of one another. Consequently, strategic changes often collided with solo change-leaders fighting each other for resources. It meant the successful delivery of one change usually came at the cost of another. More often than not, everyone lost with the change delivering less value for customers, employees, and stakeholders.

Treating change leadership as the sole responsibility of one leader no longer made sense and needed to evolve to a more collaborative form. This meant making it less like golf, and more like hockey. This meant having every leader in the team recognising that they needed to play a key role in every change, not just those they were 'sponsoring'. It also meant developing (and practicing) a new Executive Team capability. One that recognised the critical role played by the team in successful strategy delivery.

Bringing it all together

The client I’ve described was not unique in the challenges he and his Executive Team were facing. When you think about your organisation and its current environment, are your leaders playing the right game? Are they treating change leadership like a solo-sport or are they working together like a hockey team, delivering the strategy together? If it's the former, now is the right time to change the game. You can find out how, by visiting

Thanks for reading and I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please remember to share this article with others who would value its insights.


Kate Christiansen has spent over two decades adapting complex organisations to strategic change and she is the author of the award-winning book "The Thrive Cycle: Unlock the Adaptive Organisation Within". Kate is a mentor, facilitator, and advisor who helps leaders tackle the change-related challenges that stand between them and strategic success. Kate's "Leading at the Speed of Change" Executive Mastery program increases an Executive Team's ability to individually, and collaboratively, lead change.


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