The C-Suite Imperative

I’m pleased to share some thoughts on change leadership in this first “Corner Office” column. I’ll describe two unique characteristics of corner office (or “c-suite”) responsibilities and how they relate to fundamental differences between change leadership and change management.
As waves of change continue to buffet organizations, change management is gaining greater appreciation as a professional discipline. That’s good because change management is necessary to help guide people from the challenging reality of today to that of a preferred future state. While it’s a valuable process it’s not sufficient for creating lasting beneficial change. Why? Because management is not a substitute for leadership.
While c-suite occupants represent and manage their respective business functions, they must also collaborate in meeting their superseding responsibility to the entire organization as a single, integrated business system. C-suite leaders also have unique accountability for:
  • Vision and mission: to develop and communicate a successful future for the firm
  • Governance: to responsibly manage, sustain, and grow the organization today
  • Succession: to prepare the organization and its emerging leaders to thrive in the future

Given these higher-order responsibilities, it’s clear that c-suite change leadership is fundamentally different from change management. Change leaders transform and enable new realities; change managers clarify and implement new realities.
Change leaders decide on both the right things to do and what not to do; change managers do things right once those decisions have been made. Both are critical — no organization can do everything — and doing things right preserves the resources required to do the right things.
Change leaders engage stakeholders in envisioning a compelling future and effectively communicating it; change managers describe a pathway to success and key milestones along the way. Both are necessary — absent a clear vision of the future and a reasonable path to reach it, people won’t move forward.
Change leaders set higher goals; change managers plan and organize to meet them. Change leaders find and develop talent; change managers engage functional leaders in the day-to-day work. Change leaders inspire and enable others to feel part of something larger than themselves; change managers ensure that people do what needs to be done. Change leaders stay attuned to the pulse of the organization and adapt as necessary to keep moving forward based on how change managers measure and report results.
Organizations are making progress on change management, but I still see the need for more change leadership. Why? Because even great management is not a substitute for visionary leadership.
Lynn Olsen, Ph.D. is the CEO & Principal Consultant for The Innovation Group, Inc., a Minnesota-based leadership and organization improvement consultancy. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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