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If you are a leader, it is unlikely you can lead organisational change

Dr Barbara Jamieson, Senior Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

According to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), if you are in a leadership position there is only a 7% chance that you are able to lead your organisation through a major transformation. (However, if you are a woman or over 45, your chances increase. But, not by much: 3% or so.)

PwC’s findings show that those who cope well with day-to-day problems, bringing efficiencies to existing structures, have different capabilities from those who successfully lead major organisational change. The report states of these transformational leaders:

‘These leaders tend to have several common personality traits: They can challenge the prevailing view without provoking outrage or cynicism; they can act on the big and small pictures at the same time, and change course if their chosen path turns out to be incorrect; and they lead with inquiry as well as advocacy, and with engagement as well as command, operating all the while from a deeply held humility and respect for others.’

PwC also suggests that there are ways organisations can structure themselves to develop and retain these so-called ‘strategists’. One of our Australian MBA students, Charles Street, has suggested that the characteristics listed by PwC (distributes responsibility, makes it safe to fail, is honest and open, etc.) closely parallel the five leadership practices that Kouzes and Posner have written about for nearly 30 years in their series of books, The Leadership Challenge:

  1. Challenge the process
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Enable others to act
  4. Model the way
  5. Encourage the heart

If the characteristics and practices of transformational leaders have been written about for at least 30 years, we might well ask why leading change is still a pervasive problem in contemporary organisations. Can we develop more ‘strategist’ behaviours in our leaders, or are such characteristics really leadership traits that will be exhibited only by the few?

Kouzes, J. and Posner, B. (2012). The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organisations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.