Leading Through Change: An Effective Leader’s Guide

Change is a constant in today's dynamic business landscape. Whether driven by technological advancements, market shifts, or internal improvements, effective change management is essential for organizational success. Leaders play a crucial role in guiding their teams through change while minimizing resistance and ensuring continued productivity.  

Important Framework:

Resistance is Normal   

Resisting change is a natural human response designed to protect us for “getting out of the herd where we are not safe” and to conserve our brain’s energy. 

The Most Difficult Part is Psychological

Change is quick. Something old stops.  Something new starts. 

Transition is much longer and harder.  Transition is the psychological adjustment to the change. 

There is the mountain that you are currently on and the mountain you are going to take.  Getting through the valley between is often full of chaos.   

It is important to move the elephant (emotion), or it can overpower the rider (logic).  This metaphor is used to explain how change happens in our minds. 

The Elephant

This represents our emotional side. The elephant is powerful, instinctive, and sometimes unruly. It's driven by feelings and can often react automatically to situations based on past experiences or deep-rooted desires. Because of its size and strength, the elephant can easily overpower the rider, especially when it's scared or uncontrolled. 

The Rider

Symbolizes our rational side. The rider is the part of us that plans, analyzes, and tries to direct our behavior through logic and reasoning. While the rider might know the right direction to go, he is much smaller than the elephant and can struggle to maintain control over the elephant's overpowering impulses and desires.

The Path

The key takeaway from this metaphor is that successful change requires addressing both the emotional and rational aspects of our minds (the elephant and the rider) and shaping the path to make the journey easier. To effect change, it's not enough to appeal to reason alone (the rider); we must also engage the emotional side (the elephant) and make the environment conducive to change (the path).

Important Process: 

If a change is going to stick, it is important to have a well-thought-out process. Below is a best-practice process that you can use: 

Define a Clear Vision/Future State

Before implementing any change, articulate a clear and compelling vision. Explain why the change is necessary, its benefits, and the end goals. A well-defined vision provides direction and purpose, rallying the team around a shared objective.  Here is how to do it: 

The Most Senior Leader ½-bakes the vision for the positive future state. 

The Most Senior Leader takes ½-baked vision his/her direct reports and gets their input so they can ¾-bake the vision together. 

The Most Senior Leader and team then send the ¾-baked vision to all who will be impacted for input.  This gives everyone a voice, and although you can’t use all, all will be considered, and you will incorporate the ones that are likely to produce the best outcomes. 

Then The Most Senior Leader and team need to complete the vision for the change and paint the picture so clearly that everyone has the same picture of a positive future state in their head.  That way if anyone walks by and see that the picture is “crooked” (not aligning with the where you want to go) anyone in the organization can help straighten the picture.  If everyone is crystal clear on the focus areas, even the “janitor” can ask, “why are we working on that?”  or “How is that tied to our 5 areas?” 

Once you create the clear vision, the leaders will need to say it repeatedly until you are all blue in the face.  Use it to start meetings or close them. Repeat, repeat, repeat.   

You’ll know they have it when you hear them saying it to others or repeating it back to you unprompted. 

Break it Down into Small Bites  

It’s best to break big changes down into smaller chunks and then pick one line item at a time to tackle.  For example, if you need to take 100 million in cost out of the business, you might break it down into what is under each leader and then take one line item and say, “let’s fix this first.”  This allows for wins along the way, a sense of accomplishment. 

Provide Open and Transparent Communication 

Keep communication channels always open. Address concerns and questions openly, providing regular updates on the progress of the change. Transparency builds trust and minimizes misinformation. 

Empower Employees 

Provide employees with the autonomy and resources they need to adapt to the change effectively. Encourage them to contribute ideas, solutions, and innovations, fostering a sense of ownership over the transformation. 

Visible Leadership Support 

Demonstrate your commitment to the change by leading by example. Embrace the change yourself and be visible in your support. Your behavior influences the team's attitude and acceptance towards the change. 

Provide Resources and Training 

Equip employees with the necessary skills and tools to navigate the change. Offer training, workshops, and resources to help them develop the competencies required for the new state. 

Flexibility and Adaptation 

Recognize that change plans might need adjustments based on feedback and real-time challenges. A rigid approach can hinder progress, so remain open to modifying the strategy as needed. It is crucial today to remain flexible and adaptable, especially in times of uncertainty. 

Encourage Input and Act on Feedback 

Create mechanisms for employees to provide feedback on the change process. Listen actively and act on valid concerns or suggestions. This not only improves the change process but also shows that their input matters. 

Celebrate Milestones and Successes 

Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate milestones, both big and small, throughout the change journey. Recognizing achievements boosts morale, sustains motivation, and demonstrates that progress is being made. 

Incorporating these key action steps into your change management strategy will empower you to lead your organization through transitions more effectively. Remember, leading change is not only about adapting to new circumstances, but also about creating an environment where your team members can thrive amidst transformation. 



  • Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. Crown Business.  
  • Hagemann, B., et al. (2017). Chapter 9. In B. Hagemann, et al. (Eds.), Leading with vision: The leader's blueprint for creating a compelling vision and engaging the workforce (pp. 149-167).  
  • Harvard Business Review. The Hard Side of Change Management. 
  • Bridges W., & Bridges, S. (2017). Managing Transitions (25th anniversary edition): Making the Most of Change. Paperback – Special Edition. 
  • LinkedIn (2023). 
  • Stobierski, T. (2020, January 23). 5 Tips for Managing Change in the Workplace. Harvard Business School Online.  


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