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How a CEO Can Be a Strategic Leader of Organizational Change

As the sponsor of major change, you have a critical role to play in your change effort – one that cannot be delegated to anyone else. After kicking off your initiative, you must stay involved and contribute senior-level strategic overview of the change process – all the way through to completion. Completion does not mean when you have deployed the change; it means when your stakeholders have fully adopted the change, are operating effectively in the new state, and the organization is realizing the full value of the change. Your involvement as a strategic leader speaks loudly for your commitment to see the change through. 

The Potential Pitfalls of CEO as Change Leader 

Experience shows us that when CEOs sponsor change initiatives, they are likely to encounter one of two major pitfalls: being overly-involved, or not involved enough.  

Often, leaders initiate their change efforts by identifying desired outcomes, naming a project manager, allocating budget, and specifying a timeline. Then they simply disappear, only expecting the typical status report to understand what is happening and, if required, make key decisions on the solution. We frequently hear project leads, change team members, and consultants bemoan that they can hardly get the attention of the senior leaders to make key strategic decisions about design requirements, boundary conditions, or implementation. Sometimes attention to a change is so low a priority that leaders squeeze critical discussions about the effort into an hour in the middle of their monthly meeting agendas, or become totally inaccessible. This kind of absenteeism will leave you uninformed and unequipped to make sound and timely strategic decisions required by the change. 

Some leaders may go to the other extreme and get too involved with the details of the change solution or planning, which stifles their change team’s efforts. They micro-manage the effort and disempower their managers. 

Becoming an Effective Strategic Leader for Change and Transformation

Good sponsorship demands that you find the middle road and provide strategic oversight of your change effort through its full lifecycle. Keep your head fully in the strategic issues but your hands out of the details. Organizational change is primarily business strategy implementation; it follows strategic planning. 

Link your change efforts to your business strategy to ensure your initiatives deliver what the strategy demands. Your change team needs you to help them understand the larger strategic challenges the organization faces so they are not blind-sided by them as they plan the change. 

  • Stay informed so you can offer intelligent input on desired outcomes or design requirements and make sound strategic decisions when necessary. 
  • Make yourself available to your project team to offer your insights when they have confusion, a breakdown they cannot fix, or are faced with unfamiliar forks in the road. 
  • Find out the barriers they face and use your position of power to clear the way. 
  • Make sure your top team is providing what your project team needs to succeed, whether that be access to their line leaders, staff for special change tasks, or time on their mid-level managers’ agendas to integrate the change work with their operations. 
  • Know what is working and not working so you can justly hold people accountable for progress. 

Finding the right balance as you lead your strategic change efforts will simplify the process, assist you in empowering people, and ensure the best possible outcome for your organization. It will also give you the chance to really enjoy and celebrate the outcome because you will recognize and honor all the work that went into making it happen! 


Related eBook:

The Ten Key Strategies for Leading Transformation

10 key strategies for leading transformation-1

Through 40 years of observing and supporting large-scale change and transformation in Fortune 500, government, global NGOs and public service organizations, we’ve identified these ten Best Practice strategies for leading transformation successfully.

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Related Webinar:

Why Culture Change Success is Directly Linked to CEO Behavior

Dr. Dean Anderson explores the most effective culture change strategy and leadership style that creates a safe environment and inspires managers and employees to change. This approach inspires your leaders and stakeholders to change company culture in positive ways to achieve your organization's vision.