Why Leadership Development and Organizational Change Management Go Hand-in-Hand

By Mark Dillard, Principal Consultant, & Shannan Simms, PhD, Principal Consultant

Organizational change is increasing at exponential rates.  Technology transformation, process improvement efforts, mergers and acquisitions, and innovations like artificial intelligence and machine learning all require organizations to adapt new ways of working. Some recent estimates indicate employees spend 40% of their time responding to organizational change and 60% of their time doing the work they were hired to do.  Achieving sustainable change within an organization requires people to work differently. Organizations don’t change; people change.

And people follow leaders. Leaders at all levels of the organization:

  •  C-suite executives who provide the business rationale and vision for a change. 
  •  Managers and supervisors who connect the change with the employee and what it really means to them.
  •  Peers who role model adoption and can influence the new way of working by either embracing it or resisting.
                                                                                                                                                                                      


What many people fail to see is that while leadership development is, at its core, about training leaders to lead; leadership is also critical to driving organizational change to meet project and performance objectives. The skills and abilities of organizational leaders at all levels are one of the single biggest factors in affecting the organization’s ability to change.

When you deliberately develop leaders, you embed new ways of thinking and behaving into the DNA of the organization. When you focus on using a structured approach to manage organizational change you nurture and leverage change agility and leadership capability at all levels of an organization.

Leadership development and organizational change management work hand-in hand. In fact, without strong leadership development, organizational change management is difficult, if not impossible.

Managing this intersection explicitly and intentionally will strengthen the organization’s ability to tackle change in a more systemic, sustainable way.  Lasting change comes through shifts in how people across an organization view their role, and the new awareness and set of skills they develop that can be employed in innovative ways within the organization.  This is where change management and leadership development intersect.

Here are three ways to start rethinking your approach to the intersection of leadership development and change management

  1. Ensure leadership development is built into your change program.  Organizational change is sustained largely through the changes that occur in the people that are impacted by that change.  Proactively plan for this through a program of experiential learning and coaching concurrent with and in support of the change.  Use real-time examples of managing through the change in your learning and coaching programs. 
  2. Position your leadership development program as the starting point for organizational change.  Dedicate time in your leadership development program in discussing the leader’s role in driving change and strengthening organizational change agility.  Ask participants this question: “Change cannot occur in this organization unless the people sitting around this room decide to lead differently, demonstrate new behaviors, practice new skills, or think differently about their role.  It starts with you.  What are you going to do differently?”
  3. Don’t ignore the employees. Create opportunities to help employees become more adaptable, flexible, and nimble in the face of change. Increasing their awareness of how they react when change occurs and developing action plans to be more proactive will help to increase your overall organizational agility and minimize the disruption of organizational change efforts. This prepares your employees to serve as peer opinion leaders during organizational change to help move the organization to adopt the new way of working.