Change Leadership vs Change Management

Change Leadership versus Change Management

In this post we will explore the difference between change management and change leadership and why both are required to implement change. Before discussing the issues, it is useful to define what we mean by change management and what we mean by change leadership.  We like the definitions used by John Kotter i.e.

Change management refers to a set of tools or structure intended to keep any change effort under control.”

“Change leadership, on the other hand, concerns the driving forces, visions, and processes that fuel transformation.”

We explore this in some more detail below.

Change Management

Change Management is concerned with the processes and tools (the methodologies) we use to ensure that we can plan and deliver change in a structured way and make progress in line with a plan in a controlled manner.

Search for Change Management on the internet and you will come across a lot of material describing the tools, methodologies and processes that we use in Change Management. The articles you read will focus on how we manage change projects, the phases, steps and deliverables the role of the Sponsor etc. They will offer advice on how we can manage change projects, how we address and deal with typical issues such as resistance to change and how we control and manage risk. This is all very useful as change does need to be managed but just change management on its own is not the full picture.

Change Leadership

Change Leadership is concerned with setting the overall direction for change, motivating people and aligning them with the change vision. Leaders exist at every level in organisations not just the Senior Executive Team and finding and empowering those leaders is critical to success. Change leadership is about getting as many people as possible to behave as change leaders and is often the difference between successful and failed change efforts.


Organisational change is achieved by getting people within the organisation to change. People do not change just because we want them to or because we tell them  to. People only change when they have to or when they want to. Change leadership is about getting people to the point where they want to change. It is about helping people to see the opportunities that change brings and giving them the motivation to change. Change leadership is what builds support for change and that support should be built from as early on as possible and as broadly as possible.  Change initiatives that look to harness leadership and encourage as many people as possible to lead change are more successful than those that try and force participation in change.


Change leaders take the time to communicate (including gathering feedback and suggestions and feeding these into the change team) and they don’t just do this at the start of the change process. They continue to communicate throughout the change showing their support for change. They are a part of the support for change network that is required to implement change.


In many change initiatives a Sponsor is identified. This is usually a senior level executive to demonstrate that the organisation is serious about the change. Sponsorship is important but leadership is much more than just sponsorship and change leadership can and should come at many levels in the organisation. The larger  the change the more leadership that is required.



The difference between the change management and change leadership is fundamental and we need to understand that difference if we are looking to drive change, but it is not case of one or the other. They are both valuable and when implementing change, we need both management and leadership. No amount of one can compensate for a lack of the other.


External change management expertise is often brought in by organisations to help with planning and managing change. This helps to bring the benefit of experience in support of change. That support will often focus on change management, but it is important to consider change leadership.


Want to know more? Get in touch with Pat Millar.