Leading in a Culture of Change

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2001-07-01
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass

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"At the very time the need for effective leadership is reaching critical proportions, Michael Fullan's Leading in a Culture of Change provides powerful insights for moving forward. We look forward to sharing it with our grantees." --Tom Vander Ark, executive director, Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation"Fullan articulates clearly the core values and practices of leadership required at all levels of the organization. Using specific examples, he convinces us that the key change principles are equally critical for leadership in business and education organizations." --John Evans, chairman, Torstar Corporation"In Leading in a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan deftly combines his expertise in school reform with the latest insights in organizational change and leadership. The result is a compelling and insightful exposition on how leaders in any setting can bring about lasting, positive, systemic change in their organizations." --John Alexander, president, Center for Creative Leadership"Michael Fullan's work is remarkable. He masterfully captures how leaders can significantly improve their learning and performance, even in the uncontrollable, chaotic circumstances in which they practice. A tour de force." --Anthony Alvarado, chancellor of instruction, San Diego City Schools"Too often schools and businesses are seen as separate and foreign places. Michael Fullan blends the best of knowledge from each into an exemplary template for improving leadership in both." --Terrence E. Deal, coauthor of Leading with SoulBusiness, nonprofit, and public sector leaders are facing new and daunting challenges--rapid-paced developments in technology, sudden shifts in the marketplace, and crisis and contention in the public arena. If they are to survive in this chaotic environment, leaders must develop the skills they need to lead effectively no matter how fast the world around them is changing.Leading in a Culture of Change offers new and seasoned leaders' insights into the dynamics of change and presents a unique and imaginative approach for navigating the intricacies of the change process. Michael Fullan--an internationally acclaimed expert in organizational change--shows how leaders in all types of organizations can accomplish their goals and become exceptional leaders. He draws on the most current ideas and theories on the topic of effective leadership, incorporates case examples of large scale transformation, and reveals a remarkable convergence of powerful themes or, as he calls them, the five core competencies.By integrating the five core competencies--attending to a broader moral purpose, keeping on top of the change process, cultivating relationships, sharing knowledge, and setting a vision and context for creating coherence in organizations--leaders will be empowered to deal with complex change. They will be transformed into exceptional leaders who consistently mobilize their compatriots to do important and difficult work under conditions of constant change.

Author Biography

MICHAEL FULLAN Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, is recognized as an international authority on educational reform. He is engaged in training, consulting, and evaluation of change projects around the world. His books have been published in many languages. He is coauthor of What's Worth Fighting For trilogy, author of The Changes Forces trilogy, and author of The New Meaning of Educational Change, Third Edition.

Table of Contents

Preface ix
A Remarkable Convergence
Moral Purpose
Understanding Change
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Knowledge Building
Coherence Making
The Hare and the Tortoise
References 139(6)
About the Author 145(1)
Index 146


A Remarkable


Change is a double-edged sword. Its relentlesspace these days runs us off our feet. Yet when things are unsettled, we can find new ways to move ahead and to create breakthroughs not possible in stagnant societies. If you ask people to brainstorm words to describe change, they come up with a mixture of negative and positive terms. On the one side, fear, anxiety, loss, danger, panic; on the other, exhilaration, risk-taking, excitement, improvements, energizing . For better or for worse, change arouses emotions, and when emotions intensify, leadership is key.

This is not a book about superleaders. Charismatic leaders inadvertently often do more harm than good because, at best, they provide episodic improvement followed by frustrated or despondent dependency. Superhuman leaders also do us another disservice: they are role models who can never be emulated by large numbers. Deep and sustained reform depends on many of us, not just on the very few who are destined to be extraordinary.

This book, then, is about how all of us can improve our leadership by focusing on a small number of key dimensions. Each and every leader, whether the CEO of a multinational corporation or a school principal, can become more effective-much more effective-by focusing on a small number of core aspects of leadership and by developing a new mind-set about the leader's responsibility to himself or herself and to those with whom he or she works.

I have never been fond of distinguishing between leadership and management: they overlap and you need both qualities. But here is one difference that it makes sense to highlight: leadership is needed for problems that do not have easy answers. The big problems of the day are complex, rife with paradoxes and dilemmas. For these problems there are no once-and-for-all answers. Yet we expect our leaders to provide solutions. We place leaders in untenable positions (or, alternatively, our system produces leaders who try to carry the day with populist, one-sided solutions that are as clear as they are oversimplified). Homer-Dixon (2000b, p. 15) makes a similar observation: "We demand that [leaders] solve, or at least manage, a multitude of interconnected problems that can develop into crises without warning; we require them to navigate an increasingly turbulent reality that is, in key aspects, literally incomprehensible to the human mind; we buffet them on every side with bolder, more powerful special interests that challenge every innovative policy idea; we submerge them in often unhelpful and distracting information; and we force them to decide and act at an ever faster pace."

Heifetz (1994) accuses us of looking for the wrong kind of leadership when the going gets tough: "in a crisis ... we call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going-in short someone who can make hard problems simple. ... Instead of looking for saviors, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions-problems that require us to learn new ways" (p. 21).

An alternative image of leadership, argues Heifetz (1994, p. 15), is one of "mobilizing people to tackle tough problems." Leadership, then, is not mobilizing others to solve problems we already know how to solve, but to help them confront problems that have never yet been successfully addressed.

There is, I will argue, a recent remarkable convergence of theories, knowledge bases, ideas, and strategies that help us confront complex problems that do not have easy answers. This convergence creates a new mind-set-a framework for thinking about and leading complex change more powerfully than ever before. Figure 1.1 summarizes the framework.

There are strong reasons to believe that five components of leadership represent independent but mutual reinforcing forces for positive change. Chapters Two through Six are devoted to building the case for the powerful knowledge base represented by these five components of effective leadership. In the following paragraphs I will discuss Figure 1.1, providing a brief overview of the components.

Briefly, moral purpose means acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers, and society as a whole. This is an obvious value with which many of us can identify, but I will argue in Chapter Two that there may be inevitable evolutionary reasons why moral purpose will become more and more prominent and that, in any case, to be effective in complex times, leaders must be guided by moral purpose. In Chapter Two we will take up case studies from both business and education that will demonstrate that moral purpose is critical to the long-term success of all organizations.

Second, it is essential for leaders to understand the change process . Moral purpose without an understanding of change will lead to moral martyrdom. Moreover, leaders who combine a commitment to moral purpose with a healthy respect for the complexities of the change process not only will be more successful but also will unearth deeper moral purpose. Understanding the change process is exceedingly elusive. Management books contain reams of advice, but the advice is often contradictory, general, and at the end of the day confusing and nonactionable. Chapter Three identifies these problems and offers six guidelines that provide leaders with concrete and novel ways of thinking about the process of change: (1) the goal is not to innovate the most; (2) it is not enough to have the best ideas; (3) appreciate early difficulties of trying something new-what I call the implementation dip; (4) redefine resistance as a potential positive force; (5) reculturing is the name of the game; (6) never a checklist, always complexity.

Third, we have found that the single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, things get better. If they remain the same or get worse, ground is lost. Thus leaders must be consummate relationship builders with diverse people and groups-especially with people different than themselves. Effective leaders constantly foster purposeful interaction and problem solving, and are wary of easy consensus.

Fourth, the new work on knowledge creation and sharing reflects an amazing congruence with the previous three themes. We live, after all, in the knowledge society, but that term is a cliché. What is deeply revealing is that new theoretical and empirical studies of successful organizations unpack the operational meaning of the general term "knowledge organization." I will show how leaders commit themselves to constantly generating and increasing knowledge inside and outside the organization. What is astonishing (because it comes from an independent theoretical tradition) is how intimately the role of knowledge relates to the previous three themes. What has been discovered is that, first, people will not voluntarily share knowledge unless they feel some moral commitment to do so; second, people will not share unless the dynamics of change favor exchange; and, third, that data without relationships merely cause more information glut. Put another way, turning information into knowledge is a social process, and for that you need good relationships. So Chapter Five focuses on knowledge building, but we will see that we need moral purpose, an understanding of the change process, and good relationships if we are to create and share knowledge.

All this complexity keeps people on the edge of chaos. It is important to be on that edge because that is where creativity resides, but anarchy lurks there too. Therefore, effective leaders tolerate enough ambiguity to keep the creative juices flowing, but along the way (once they and the group know enough), they seek coherence. Coherence making is a perennial pursuit. Leadership is difficult in a culture of change because disequilibrium is common (and valuable, provided that patterns of coherence can be fostered).

In summary, moral purpose is concerned with direction and results; understanding change, building relationships, and knowledge building honor the complexity and discovery of the journey; and coherence making extracts valuable patterns worth retaining. But, alas, none of this is quite so linear and fixed as it would seem when one reads a simple description of each component.

There is another set of seemingly more personal characteristics that all effective leaders possess, which I have labeled the energy-enthusiasm-hopefulness constellation. I do not think it is worth debating whether this constellation is a cause or an effect of the five leadership components. No doubt there is a dynamic, reciprocal relationship between the two sets. Energetic-enthusiastic-hopeful leaders "cause" greater moral purpose in themselves, bury themselves in change, naturally build relationships and knowledge, and seek coherence to consolidate moral purpose. Looking at the dynamic from the "other side," we can see that leaders immersed in the five aspects of leadership can't help feeling and acting more energetic, enthusiastic, and hopeful. Whatever the case, effective leaders make people feel that even the most difficult problems can be tackled productively. They are always hopeful-conveying a sense of optimism and an attitude of never giving up in the pursuit of highly valued goals. Their enthusiasm and confidence (not certainty) are, in a word, infectious, and they are infectiously effective, provided that they incorporate all five leadership capacities in their day-to-day behavior.

Note also how the five capacities together operate in a checks and balances fashion. Leaders with deep moral purpose provide guidance, but they can also have blinders if ideas are not challenged through the dynamics of change, the give and take of relationships, and the ideas generated by new knowledge. Similarly, coherence is seen as part and parcel of complexity and can never be completely achieved. Leaders in a culture of change value and almost enjoy the tensions inherent in addressing hard-to-solve problems, because that is where the greatest accomplishments lie.

Figure 1.1 also shows how leaders who are steeped in the five core capacities by definition evince and generate long-term commitment in those with whom they work. Effective leaders, because they live and breathe the five aspects of leadership, find themselves committed to stay the course (in a sense, they are also inspired by others in the organization as they interact around moral purposes, new knowledge, and the achievement of periodic coherence), and, of course, they mobilize more and more people to become willing to tackle tough problems. We have to be careful when we talk about commitment. In the past, we have written about blind commitment or groupthink-when the group goes along uncritically with the leader or the group (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1992). Leaders can be powerful, and so can groups, which means they can be powerfully wrong. This is why the five dimensions of leadership must work in concert. They provide a check against uninformed commitment.

Even when commitment is evidently generated, there are qualifiers. Argyris (2000, p. 40) has helped us make the crucial distinction between external and internal commitment: "These differ in how they are activated and in the source of energy they utilize. External commitment is triggered by management policies and practices that enable employees to accomplish their tasks. Internal commitment derives from energies internal to human beings that are activated because getting a job done is intrinsically rewarding." Argyris notes that "when someone else defines objectives, goals, and the steps to be taken to reach them, whatever commitment exists will be external" (p. 41).

Moral purpose is usually accompanied by a sense of urgency. Leaders in some such cases are in a hurry. If they are in too much of a hurry, they will completely fail-you can't bull-doze change. If leaders are more sophisticated, they may set up a system of pressure and support, which in the short run will obtain noticeable desired results, but these will mainly be derived from external commitment. Remember that external commitment is still commitment; it is the motivation to put one's effort into the task of change. It can include excitement and satisfaction of accomplishment. It is valuable. Later, I will present case studies of change projects that generated a good deal of external commitment with impressive short-term results. But we will also discuss the ins and outs of developing internal commitment on a large scale-an extremely difficult proposition.

At this stage of the discussion, we need only make the point essential to the framework illustrated in Figure 1.1. The litmus test of all leadership is whether it mobilizes people's commitment to putting their energy into actions designed to improve things. It is individual commitment, but it is above all collective mobilization. We will also see in subsequent chapters that collective action by itself can be short-lived if it is not based on or does not lead to a deep sense of internal purpose among organizational members. Generating internal over external commitment and external over blind commitment is the mark of effective leadership.

What are the outcomes of all this effective leadership and commitment? In Figure 1.1, I have deliberately referred to results very generally as causing "more good things to happen" and "fewer bad things to happen." I will be presenting case studies from both business and education. In the case of business, good things are economic viability, customer satisfaction, employee pride, and a sense of being valuable to society. In schools, good things are enhanced student performance, increased capacity of teachers, greater involvement of parents and community members, engagement of students, all-around satisfaction and enthusiasm about going further, and greater pride for all in the system. In both cases, the reduction of bad things means fewer aborted change efforts; less demoralization of employees; fewer examples of piecemeal, uncoordinated reform; and a lot less wasted effort and resources.

This book delves into the complexities of leadership evidenced in Figure 1.1. It provides insights, strategies, and, ultimately, better theories of knowledge and action suited to leadership in complex times. In the final chapter we will examine more directly the question of how new leaders can be developed.


Excerpted from Leading In a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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