In This Guide

Your Guide to Leading Through Change

The Ultimate Guide to Leading Through Change

Everything a leader needs to know about successfully implementing organizational change.

part I. What is Change Leadership?

  1. 1. What is Change Leadership?

“Leadership is about setting a direction… In its most basic sense, leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.” 

– John Kotter

Change Leadership is the process of leading others through the specific challenges that arise during any transitional period in the workplace. Change Leadership involves looking ahead at what is to come, including both challenges and opportunities, and helping your team to visualize the next steps so that they can be on board.

Change Leaders empower their teams to bring their best work forward, even in moments of transition, because they inspire trust. Change presents a challenging circumstance for any business, but a true change leader knows that their focus should be on their people rather than their circumstances. When you bring your team on board and support them, you can inspire true transformation in the workplace.

Why is Change Leadership Important?

“There is no matter more delicate to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” 

– Niccolo Macchiavelli

Change is a difficult thing for leaders to manage. 

Every organizational decision has an impact on the people and the customers, and the inherent risk of implementing change is the possibility that this impact will be a negative one. Change can have unintentional consequences that damage the organization’s culture, disrupt and frustrate their workforce, or damage their relationships with clients or customers. 

Perhaps one of the biggest risks is that poorly-handled change can damage relationships with talented employees. A person with highly-marketable skills might choose to leave the company rather than waiting it out if tensions run high during a transition. 

In no uncertain terms, change is stressful. Leaders often feel a deep sense of responsibility to balance the needs of the organization and the needs of their people, and this can make things tricky. 

Change leaders must balance conflicting priorities:

  1. Get better results 

  2. Support your team

  3. Avoid disrupting business


The fear that leaders experience with change is a result of the worry that they are not prepared to handle it if something goes wrong. Nobody wants to be the cause of ruffled feathers. Change leadership skills are critical because change creates a unique situation that requires a different style of leadership. 

The truth is, change happens whether we want it to or not. For example, organizational restructuring or rebranding, new leadership, new team formation, new product launches, expanding, and downsizing are just a few of the situations that force change upon companies. 

Change is inevitable and uncertain, but change leadership skills give leaders the tools to navigate the unknown with confidence. This article will help you understand the ins and outs of change and the skills necessary to lead through it. 

How Change Affects People 

“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.” 

– Alvin Toffler

Despite the fact that it is inevitable, change can be a scary process even for experienced leaders. The explanation for this is simple: change involves risk. In order to minimize risks, leaders need to understand the different aspects of change from a technical perspective as well as a human perspective. 

Organizational change has been a popular topic of research for decades, and our understanding of the psychological impacts of change have evolved over time. As a result, there have been a number of “best practice” methods created by influential change leaders, and these ideas are powerful tools for leaders to take advantage of. 

4 Methodologies Every Change Leader Must Understand

Currently, the best methodologies for understanding and implementing change are the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, the Bridges Transition Model, Kotter’s 8 Steps for Implementing Change, and the Prosci Change Management model. Understanding these different methods is critical for leaders to successfully navigate the various impacts of change for individuals and organizations. 


How People Process Change Emotionally

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created the Five Stages of Grief theory to explain the psychological process of losing someone. This theory has since been adapted to explain how people process change, and became the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. 

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve is important for organizational change because it explains the correlation between a person’s emotional state and their level of engagement with work. Understanding the emotional stages of change sheds light on what leaders can do to support their people throughout the process. 

Stage 1: Denial

Disbelief or fear are common. People may not want to accept that a change is necessary or choose to ignore that it is happening. 

Stage 2: Frustration 

Irritability is common. In this stage, people accept that a change is happening and that it will affect them. They might be angry, looking for something or someone to blame. 

Stage 3: Bargaining

This is an attempt to postpone the inevitable. People may think that working harder or putting in longer hours will resolve the situation without the proposed change. 

Stage 4: Depression

It becomes apparent that bargaining was not successful, and the reality of the situation sets in. People in this stage may be less engaged with the work and feel less motivated to succeed. 

Stage 5: Acceptance

Even if they are not happy with the change, at this stage people become resigned to it and realize they need to get on board. Morale and competence begin to increase in this stage and typically surpass the starting point. 


How to Minimize the Negative Impacts of Change


The timeline of implementing change is important to consider. The longer a transition takes, the greater the impact will be on everyone involved. The Bridges Transition Model exists to help leaders minimize these impacts throughout the process of implementing change.

The Bridges Transition Model makes it clear that change and transition are not the same thing. Change is the physical or technical aspect that is being altered, like structure or business model. Transition is the psychological process of adapting to a change.  

This model explains that transition occurs in three stages, and each stage has a different effect on a person’s motivation, emotional wellbeing, job satisfaction, and even employee retention. To be a successful change leader, you must support your people as their needs evolve throughout each stage of a transition. 

Stage 1:  Endings- Realize that something needs to change

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”

Peter Senge

In this stage, leaders may have noticed low engagement, high rates of employee turnover, a shrinking profit margin, or another cause for concern. On the other hand, there might be a few that seize an exciting opportunity to develop or grow the business, a new product to offer, or an innovative new way of working to increase productivity. Whatever the cause, at this stage leaders will make decisions about what needs to be altered, replaced, or added to address the issue.  

When leaders share the plans with their teams, people may be shocked, confused, or frustrated as they focus on what they are losing. It can be hard for people to adjust to the ways that their individual roles change as a result of organizational change. Productivity often drops as people grapple with this, wishing they could go back to how things were. 

For example of what this can look like: if an organization switches to a new process that makes a certain task easier overall, someone who had mastered the old process and was praised by others for always offering assistance might worry that they will lose part of what made them valuable to the company with that change. 

Stage 2: The Neutral Zone- People start to accept the change

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
Peter Drucker

In this stage, a change has been made and the transition has begun. People are still getting on board, old habits and patterns are being broken, and people are processing the new ways of working. This is a crucial stage, because it can be very stressful and confusing. 

This is the battle ground for moving from resistance to curiosity. When leaders are met with resistance, it is important for them to consider a person’s individual situation– what are they giving up in this transition and what do they stand to gain? If a leader can help each individual understand their new role and how their unique strengths will bring value, they can shift resistance to curiosity.

Inspiring curiosity is the key here. People who are curious will engage with the change fully, stepping into their new role with confidence and exploring new possibilities. When leaders empower people to look at issues with curiosity rather than resistance, they will be able to create their own solutions and take action rather than being stuck in a space of confusion or hesitation. Each person a leader inspires to be curious will then inspire more curiosity in those around them as they start to find success, and this accelerates the transition. 

Stage 3: New Beginnings- Maintain momentum from change

“Your success in life isn’t based on your ability to simply change. It is based on your ability to change faster than your competition, customers and business.”

Mark Sanborn

At this point, if a transition is handled correctly, people come to accept and understand their roles after the change. This time is characterized by deeper engagement, increased job satisfaction, and a renewed sense of purpose. The change now has momentum as more and more people are finding success in their new way of working. 

In this stage, people should feel empowered to take on their new roles and iron out any kinks they might come across. They should be encouraged to innovate and find what works, and leaders should express confidence in their abilities to empower them to find their own solutions. The trust that leaders and teams build during the first and second stages will now allow leaders to give their people the reins and let them find their own success. 


How to Accelerate the Process of Change

“The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.”

John P. Kotter

Dr. John Kotter, a thought leader in change leadership, came up with an 8-step process for successful change. This pragmatic model helps accelerate the implementation of changes and boosts the chances of their success.

A key factor in the success of this model is engaging the entire workforce in a company’s changes. This allows leaders to handle the negative effects of the early stages of change by minimizing fear and accelerating the rate at which people accept and get excited about change. 


The 8 Steps for Accelerating Change:

Create a sense of urgency

help others understand the situation at hand and why immediate action is necessary. What is at risk if you don’t take action?

Build a guiding coalition

Form a team of highly competent workers to take part in guiding and implementing the changes. 

Form a strategic vision and initiatives 

Create a strong idea for what the future will look like after these changes and develop a strategy to implement them. 

Enlist a volunteer army

Encourage a large group of people to get on board with the change, these people will be excited about new possibilities and will help bring others to the table. 

Enable action by removing barriers

Allow the changes to take place by removing inefficient structures that would otherwise prevent progress. This can include hierarchies and work processes. 

Generate short-term wins

Recognizing and celebrating improvements energizes people to continue working toward changes. Make note of every step forward and remind people that things are going to keep getting better. 

Sustain acceleration

Keep moving forward as you accumulate more successes. When the first step is out of the way, go on to the next until you reach the final vision. 

Institute change

Communicate with others to help them see the improvements that correspond with the changes that have been implemented. This creates trust in the new processes and in a leader’s competence. 


How to Ensure Success in Organizational Change 

The Prosci Methodology of Change Management is highly regarded for its success in managing the human side of change. It includes the Prosci Change Triangle (PCT) Model and the ADKAR Model. Roughly 70% of all organizational change initiatives fail, resulting in millions of dollars lost, market share loss, disrupted customers, and a disengaged workforce. This model exists to guide leaders to focus on the key elements of successfully implementing changes. 

4 Factors of Organizational Change

The Prosci Change Triangle (PCT) model includes four factors that influence the success of a change and states that if any of these factors are not handled well, the change will ultimately be unsuccessful. 

1. Clearly Define Success

You should consider why the change is necessary, how you will implement the change, and how the change will benefit the organization.

2. Gain Leadership/Sponsorship Commitment 

Having the commitment of executive sponsorship is critical. When change becomes difficult and additional time, energy and money are required, you need a Senior Leader that will advocate and clear the path of resistance. 

3. Partner with the Project Management team

This collaboration allows you to co-create better solutions to whatever problems you face. Working with project management increases resources and training to help more people get on board with the change. 

4. Integrate Change Management with Project Management

Combining the team that handles the human side of change with the team that handles the logistics of integrating change is important for empowering employees to successfully be part of the change. When these teams work together, they create a clear plan that supports employees through the transition, giving them the tools they need to fully take part in the change. 


Organizational change only happens when individuals change.

Change is personal, and every individual needs the opportunity to fully process what it means for them. People process change at different speeds, and they will need different levels of support from leadership as they do. It is the leader’s responsibility to create space for their team members to process these things and be available to offer whatever support is needed. 

5 Factors of Individual Change

The Prosci ADKAR Model addresses the individual aspect of change with the understanding that organizational change is only possible if individuals get onboard. “ADKAR” is an acronym that stands for:


  1. Understanding Why A Change Is Necessary
  2. Desire or illingness to participate in the change
  3. Knowledge or Understanding how to make the change happen
  4. Ability – or being able to adapt with new skills or behaviors
  5. Reinforcement Continued support to maintain a change
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Part II. Build Your Culture during Change

“Culture emerges when we are together. We express our culture through the stories we tell, and then we live into those stories.”

-Heather Evans

Culture is Created Through Shared Stories 

When we are intentional with our stories, we can control the course of our professions, our team’s success, and the success of our business. Through shared stories, we connect and begin to own who we are individually as well as who we will be as a team. If we fail to be intentional, we will create stories that may not be in service to our customers, our teams, or ourselves, and this is how negative cultures develop. 

These stories are critical during change. 

Company culture is at risk during any transition, because people tend to question their future and whether or not they can be a valuable asset amidst changing procedures. People fear the potential loss that can result from change, and fear often sends the rumor mill into overdrive. If your stories are not clearly told, people will have room to speculate and new stories will develop on their own that will be detrimental to your efforts. When you own your stories with clarity and intention, you take control of the information that spreads and thus gain control of the culture that is being built. 

3 Stories Every Change Leader Needs to Focus On

focused on crafting personal, team, and business stories that will guide and influence the acceleration into team formation and success. The stories include: 

Personal Stories

Your success story begins with discovering who you are individually and what strengths bring the most value to your work and your team. Your unique gifts, how those gifts have influenced past success, and what you want for the future are the foundation of your personal story. 

The value of knowing your personal story is being able to clearly express yourself to others. When you have a clear idea of what you can do, what you love to do, and how your work adds value for the company, you can make these things clear to others. Understanding your professional superpowers and sharing your stories, sets the stage for building trust through understanding, engaging with empathy, and bringing the full force of your talents to every effort. 

Team Stories 

The team story includes your vision, purpose, values, and talents. This story of who you are as a collective group and what you can achieve together. When each team member is clear about their personal stories, they will gain a deeper understanding of where they fit in the team story. Understanding your personal strengths allows you to take on your role with confidence rather than hesitating.

Furthermore, when each team member takes ownership of their role and makes their strengths clear, collaborative efforts will be much stronger. If you have a clear understanding of the different strengths of your team, you intuitively leverage each other’s strengths and allow each individual to shine in their role. The team becomes a high performance unit, empowered to make quick decisions and engage with the full force of their individual strengths. Learn  Collaboration Training Leadership 

Business Stories 

The story of your business includes your shared values, standards, and the vision of success you are working toward. This is about re-writing your relationship with customers and transforming the customer experience. When your company tells a story of success, you make the value offered to your customers clear.

By leveraging your strengths and committing to your success story, you create a strong culture that drives strong results for customers.  Own Your Own Story, Own Your Own Life


Every Change Leader’s Biggest Culture Challenge: Mindset

The Battle Between Abundance and Scarcity

A change leader’s biggest challenge is to help establish a new pattern of thinking. Patterns of thought influence what people believe, how people behave and what they can achieve, and they can be either positive or negative. Negative patterns tend to come from a scarcity mindset, whereas positive patterns are typical of an abundance mindset. 

The Scarcity Mindset

A scarcity mindset means that your way of thinking is centered around fear and unfulfilled needs. This leads to feelings of stress or fear that can have a paralyzing effect on engagement in the office. A company culture dominated by a scarcity mindset might exhibit “trade-off” thinking, a belief that it is impossible to accomplish everything, so you must choose one thing over another. A scarcity mindset can also lead to envy and competition where one person’s success is equated to another’s failure. 

The Abundance Mindset

In contrast, an abundance mindset focuses on opportunity and excitement. This mindset creates feelings of excitement, gratitude, and increased job satisfaction, with a company culture that promotes teamwork and a shared vision of success. Scarcity limits a company’s plans to the immediate tasks, but abundance allows people to look past their current projects to see the bigger picture. 

Change leaders can shift the culture from scarcity to abundance

Culture is often at the heart of organizational problems. Because negative patterns of thinking lead to negative outcomes for the company, it is important for change leaders to address company culture as they implement changes. 

Leaders who work closely with their teams have a big impact on how people “show up” every day in their work, for each other, and with their customers. These leaders reinforce the company culture and give it life. When these leaders develop change leadership skills, they can engage individually with their teams to give them the support they need and shift the company culture to align with a better vision of the future. 


Tips for Changing Company Culture

  1. Clearly define individual, team, and company stories

Every conversation is a chance to connect to a culture of abundance. Your job is not to sell the change initiative by arguing the points, but to instill confidence in the change by asking questions that promote an abundance mindset. Change leaders clarify company values through dialogue that inspires their team members to consider “what is possible” rather than what they “can’t do”. When people feel that their contributions make a valuable impact, they engage on a higher level and bring their best talents forward. 

  1. Be an authentic leader. 

Lead with integrity, transparency, and a strong vision for the future. Authentic leaders forge strong bonds with their teams that are based in trust. This inspires others to be more committed to the organization and more engaged with their work. As their leader you are not immune to the stress of changes. Being vulnerable in sharing your story and concerns is courageous and honest, and this builds their trust in your leadership. Allowing your team to see you as human gives them permission to really think about the change and results in an opportunity to discuss and reinforce the company culture. 

  1. Help others see the vision for themselves. 

Organizational change can only succeed if individuals opt in. When people have a clear understanding of their new role and the possibilities for their future, this creates a desire to take part in change and makes people excited to opt in. True change leaders help individuals see where they can make the biggest impact and empower them to step into their roles with confidence. 

  1. Stop racing against the clock. 

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and implementing successful changes requires leaders to slow down and be intentional with their communication and their actions. People adapt to changes at a different pace, and being mindful of where people are at in the process is important. 

  1. Give up the to-do list. 

A long list of tasks can actually hinder performance. Checking off items provides a short burst of satisfaction, but this can lead to prioritizing quick tasks over important ones. For this reason, it is best to create a list of objectives or goals that support the vision of success rather than spelling out every individual task. This empowers people to use their time and their talents wisely.

When you use these tips….

A vibrant culture with an abundance mindset encourages people to perform on a higher level and collaborate more closely with their teams. Shifting from a culture dominated by the scarcity mindset to a culture powered by the abundance mindset can transform every level of an organization. It is often the difference between companies that “get by” and companies that thrive. 

3. Skills Every Change Leader Must Develop

“Are leaders born or made? This is a false dichotomyleaders are neither born nor made. Leaders choose to be leaders.” 

Stephen R. Covey

Leadership is not an innate quality that some people are born with, it is a set of learned skills that anyone can invest in developing for themselves. Change leadership requires developing the ability to help others get excited about new possibilities and support them as they go through the process of the transition.

In other words, leadership is about influence. The ability to influence others is born from a genuine interest in understanding where people are at and meeting them there. Change leaders have to be able to process the impacts of change on themselves, their followers, and the organization, and this requires a specific set of skills. 


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Part III. The 10 Essential Change Leadership Skills

1. Communicate With Clarity

You can create clarity even in times of uncertainty by defining what success looks like. Helping others to clearly understand your vision for the future minimizes confusion and rallies everyone behind the changes. Clear communication allows a leader to make their plans and ideas clear so that even when people feel stress and uncertainty in the moment, they can trust in the process and see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Active listening is another important factor for communication, because change leaders must pay close attention to feedback from others. A leader needs to be aware of what their people are feeling so that they can offer whatever support is necessary. 

2. Be Authentic

Bring Authenticity by honoring that which is uniquely you! People gravitate towards leaders who are confident in themselves, because authenticity inspires trust.

Authentic leaders are self-aware, purposeful, consistent, and driven by their values. Authentic leaders foster strong interpersonal relationships with others on their teams, and this builds a sense of trust between them. People know that even in times of uncertainty, they can rely on authentic leaders to make the right decisions, and this reduces resistance to change. 

3. Lead With A Coach Approach

4. Be A Multiplier That Allows Everyone To Lead.  

Know your unique strengths and the strengths of others so that everyone is focused on bringing their top talent to the game. When you are aware of your strengths and the strengths of others, you can take on tasks that suit your strengths and you can empower others to take on tasks that would better suit their own. 

It is sometimes best to let others shine– knowing that you can handle something doesn’t always mean you should!  

5. Be Agile In Your Response

Embrace mistakes as the blessin’ of the lesson.

Agility is the ability to quickly respond to new challenges with decisive action. Agile leaders find creative solutions to problems that arise for both the company and stakeholders, and they see mistakes as an opportunity to try again rather than a failure. 

Agility inspires trust in a leader’s competence, which eases a lot of the stress of transition. When a leader is trustworthy, their team knows that they will make the right decisions. When they are agile, their team knows that chaos is only temporary, and they will feel more confident to stay with the organization through a period of transition as a result. 

6. Build Trust

Your team must trust you tt Build trust by delivering over & over. Connect with others to understand what they value and begin to bring that to life for each other. Create a space where you can deliver before you ask— honoring the currency of connection by connecting people.  They are craving certainty & stability. You also like, ‘Should Statements’ as part of our 30 Day Team Challenge. 

7. Actively Promote Diversity

Diversity is critical to success in a diverse society, but diversity does not just happen. You must be intentional in making diverse hiring decisions and promoting people with many different backgrounds and lived experiences. 

Your talent should reflect your customer community. Create the space to connect and share. Embrace unique perspectives and talents. 

8. Prioritize Inclusivity

Great ideas are not born in echo chambers; leaders must solicit opinions and insights that differ from their own in order to be successful. Inclusivity is more than prioritizing diversity in hiring decisions, this means prioritizing diversity in promotion as well. In order to empower people to share their ideas, they must be offered a true seat at the table. 

Invite people to be a part of the solution by creating a space that values deep listening and curiosity. When everybody’s fingerprints on the blueprint, you share ownership and clarity on the execution. 

9. Strive For Innovation 

Acknowledge, celebrate, and grow together. Innovative ideas require trust and willingness to fail. In order to allow true innovation, you must suspend judgement and be willing to fall before you fly. Inspire others to make bold moves with the confidence to simply try something else if it does not work, and you will create a space for brilliant innovation. 

10. Avoid “Groupthink”

Groupthink occurs when people do not feel empowered to speak their minds. This is the echochamber that every leader should wish to avoid. When your team simply goes along with whatever is proposed and does not offer feedback, you miss the opportunity to push the envelope and create better ideas and solutions. 

Change leaders should invite feedback and input from their teams. Creating a space to work together and truly discuss things builds confidence and trust and creates better solutions. 

How to Engage the Entire Organization in Change

Change leaders have the ability to influence every level of an organization. In order to be successful, however, they must consider the impact of changes for themselves, their team, and the business, and engage on each level appropriately. 

Engage Self 

Anyone who is familiar with air travel is aware that in the event of an emergency, you must put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. This is sound advice for leaders who are in the process of implementing change. If you have not gone through the motions and weighed the costs and benefits for yourself first, you will not be in a position to ease the worries of others. 

1. Engage In The New Vision

Get a clear idea of how this change will benefit you, your team, and your business and identify old patterns and structures that will need to be replaced. What is possible? What do you need? What are you afraid of? 

2. Understand Your Strengths

Take an honest inventory of your skills and consider how they will contribute to your vision. Understand your role in this change and identify important roles for others to take on to make use of their own skills.

3. Be Curious And Confident

 Uncertainty is unsettling, but when you look at questions with curiosity rather than fear, it can be much easier to move forward. Leading with confidence allows your team to trust that you will find a solution.

4. Be Innovative

Some trial and error may be necessary, and there is nothing wrong with that. Treat this as a normal step in the process of innovation rather than a sign that things are going wrong. 

5. Set Actionable Steps And Move Forward

Even the best ideas are worthless if they die on the drawing board. Take action to get the ball rolling and trust yourself to revise the plan if necessary. 

Engage Your Team

Everyone transitions through change at their own pace. Leaders need to understand where people are on their change journey, how this is affecting them, and how to support them in order to successfully implement change. 

Listen to what is being said

Welcome feedback from those who offer it and try to limit the need to defend yourself. People who offer constructive criticism do so because they care about the team and the business, so it is important to be receptive to this. 

Listen to what is not being said

Some people hesitate to voice concerns at the workplace, but this does not mean that they are unaffected. Pay attention to patterns like decreased engagement or increased absences as these are signs that people are struggling with the change. 

Acknowledge without solving

Even if you do not have a solution to a problem, acknowledge the fears, stress, or anger that people express. Expressing empathy allows people to trust that you will do what is best. 

Bring others to the table

Change energizes innovative minds, so make use of this opportunity by welcoming others to participate in brainstorming sessions. Making others a part of the process increases support for the change and can bring innovative solutions.

Recognize efforts and celebrate wins

Acknowledging the work that others are doing and connecting the results to the change they have made is a great way to boost morale and get others to see the benefits of changes. 


Engage Your Business

During times of change, leaders often have to address the culture of the company in order to engage the business in changes. Culture can either inhibit progress or accelerate it, so shifting to a positive culture is important for implementing long-term changes. 

Take a culture inventory

Evaluate the existing hierarchy, processes, and overall attitudes of the organization. Are they driving success or inhibiting progress? Is there a mindset of scarcity or abundance?

Set expectations

Clearly define the mission and values of the company. A firm set of values can act as a guide for behavior at the workplace and helps everyone align with the mission. 

Challenge the status quo

Companies who get stuck in traditions and avoid innovation risk losing their competitive edge. Is there a more efficient way to operate?

Welcome feedback

In order to successfully implement change that permeates the entire organization, the benefits of the change should be felt by everyone. Leaders should be receptive to feedback and be open to adapting the plans if necessary.