Why change needs leadership

Organisations need people who challenge the status quo and look for new sources of value because business-as-usual leads to decline. Disruptors are everywhere and are very much part of the 21st-century competitive landscape.

Step 1. Generate Urgency

There are plenty of examples of companies that have been left behind because they didn’t have leadership looking into the future. Kodak missed the digital revolution, Nokia missed the smartphone shift, Amstrad was once the UK’s largest computer supplier that lost its foothold because it failed to understand the concept of networking, and DEC (The Digital Equipment Corp) in the 80’s was second only to IBM. However, its president proclaimed that there would never be a market for a computer in the home. Oops!

It takes leadership to step outside of the b-a-u model and start to generate a real sense of urgency amongst key stakeholders. The pushback comes in waves of logic insisting that the business needs to focus on the here-and-now. This kind of logic is hard to defeat because it has certainty on its side and it can be backed up with accurate projections.

Following the same path is seductive because to looks safe, but it’s only a matter time before a new business model shatters this illusion.

Step 2. Get the right people onboard

Effecting change requires a team of influential stakeholders that are interested in exploring the future.  Finding the next disruptive innovation is a challenging exercise. Turning it into a commercial success requires more than the willpower of one individual, it requires complementary knowledge and skills that only a team can bring.

To address the logical arguments for the existing business model, you must develop more compelling and robust arguments for the new prototype. Tools such as the business canvas and design thinking are essential and require a team to test assumptions, build hypothesis and research changes. Pulling this team together and engaging them in search the future is the output of great leadership.

Step 3. Developing a Vivid Vision of the Future

As most successful athletes will tell you, seeing the win before it happens is a critical component of their preparation for success.

Setting out to build a vivid vision opens up the list of topics to be discussed by the team. It shifts the focus from big generic ideas to specific details that make the vision more tangible. Conversations about what the offices will look like are not trivial because they open up discussions about culture, people and the kinds of aspirations that the team has about where and how they want to work. Storytelling, in this way, improves how the teammates understand each other’s values and motivators. Sharing builds the team’s common ground and develops a sense of belonging which creates the bond necessary to enable them to meet tough challenges together.

Step 4. Communicating the vision clearly and often

When you develop the vision, follow Elon Musk’s example, check out his plan to colonise Mars, rich visualisations are within everyone’s grasp; use pictures, videos, animations, and of course PowerPoint to share and more importantly allow audiences to interact with the vision. The questions people ask are sources of enrichment, especially questions you or your team have not yet asked.

The more you share, the more you can learn, providing you remain open to questions and are curious about the views of others. Seeing your vision from multiple perspectives adds ideas that can be used to make your vision better and more vivid.

Step 5. Removing obstacles

If you are going to disrupt your own company’s business model, there will be obstacles that will need attention.

Map out the plan to get from where you are to where your future lies. Plot major obstacles and begin by asking who do you need to put in a room to remove each obstacle. For inspiration, think about the challenge that faced Steve Jobs when he wanted to launch iTunes. Jobs and his team had to convince the record label bosses to put their collections in their store online. This intervention created the digital music market.

Step 6. Celebrate Short term wins and avoid premature declarations of victory

Disrupting an industry can bring quick wins. Celebrating these is an important strategy to maintain the high levels of engagement needed to turn quick wins into a sustainable business model. At this point, the leader must become a chess player.

Planning to celebrate small wins is an exercise in maintaining morale as well as building culture. Every successful leader knows that culture is the key to sustaining a successful business. As plans are executed, what gets celebrated, and what is rewarded, tell the story of what is being built, these are the cultural artefacts that people share, and they will become the mythology of the business.

This is why change needs leaders. It takes leadership to guide people through all of these steps and engage the many stakeholders needed to make change a reality.

learn more

Kotter’s Model

Tim Brown Design Thinking

Circular Economy 


If you are interested in learning more about MGL or how to implement any of our models with your team, please contact chris@makinggreatleaders.com or call +1 203 253 2836.

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