Change Management and Transformational Leadership Synergy

In the work of business transformations there are two questions clients always ask:

1) What will it take for this transformation to be successful?

2) How do we get our people to change?

Depending on who answers these questions clients get things like: measure the progress of the implementation, stay on budget/on time, track KPI’s and ROI’s, apply some tactics to manage resistance.

Technically, these elements are correct and are definitely required in the process of transformations. However, a major gap in that response is that it leaves out the most critical component – which is that people, associates, employees, partners, colleagues are the ones who make any transformation possible. Without consideration of how their experiences weave into the DNA of the business transformation, it does not matter how budget is allocated or how quickly a process gets built.

To understand how the technical application of processes and the human experience come together to unleash the power of transformations, I like to use a more comprehensive approach with my clients. I use an approach that explores the synergy of Change Management Models (CM) and Transformational Leadership Theory (TL). Let’s first review these two disciplines independently then I will share how I bring them together into practice.

The field of change management has many methodologies with Prosci’s ADKAR model and Kotter 8 Steps being among the most widely known and respected today. At their core both argue that for any change to be successful a leader must be an active participant in the process, create a sense of urgency to be different, must be visible throughout the life of the project, should continuously reinforce the vision, and display behaviors that model the desired future state. The goal is to help people taking part in the change to understand that transformations are a journey, a destination, and a better place!

So why is it that transformations are so difficult? Why do they take so long? Why do they fail? To help answer these questions, I apply Transformational Leadership Theory into my work. I like to leverage the research of some of the great minds like Burns, Bass, Avolio, and Riggio (to name a few). From their studies and findings, we know that transformational leaders behave in ways that inspire people to want to take their lead (i.e., inspirational motivation); these leaders challenge their staff to think differently about the future (i.e., intellectual stimulation); they spend time coaching people to try harder and do more for the greater good (i.e., individual consideration); lastly, and most importantly they help staff keep their eyes on the vision – they give them a reason “why” (i.e., idealized influence). The combined effect of these behaviors increases motivation, morale, performance, and overall desire to reach that future transformative destination.

Let’s bring it all together now - when working with clients on a business transformation strategy, I like to build an understanding that change is significantly more successful when both human experience and technical tools (like change and project management) come together as one. The synergy is found when people leaders are coached and trained to apply transformational behaviors (inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individual consideration, idealized influence) to transformational projects. Why does this work? Well, because doing so targets human intrinsic motivation, which serves to inspire people to be their best, it promotes feelings of being supported, and it recognizes individual contributions towards the transformation.  

So next time you are working on a business transformation, think about coaching your sponsors to display transformational behaviors. In doing so, you will be far more successful at getting their people to become part of the change, to own and be accountable for their own change, while aligning their personal motivations with the vision of the organization.


Avolio, B. J., & Bass, B. M. (2002). Manual for the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (Form 5X). Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.

Bernard M. Bass & Ronald E. Riggio (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Erlbaum.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Free Press.

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