This paper develops a process model of executive leadership under conditions of ongoing organizational change. Cases involving top executive leaders in both a business merger and an educational setting are used to illustrate the model. The model, which is based on an analysis of Minnesota Innovation Research Program (MIRP) cases, identifies three leadership perspectives as being especially relevant to effective executive leadership of major change: visionary, participative, and transactional leadership. Our bi-cycle leadership model combines these three perspectives in a single process model that represents the unfolding of executive leadership during significant organizational change.
Effective implementation and management of significant organizational change is an elusive process. The sheer complexity of organizational systems can often lead to unpredictable and detrimental outcomes. For example, in his book on managing strategic change, Tichy (1983) likened organizations to a rope containing three primary strands: a technical, a political, and a cultural strand. The many fibers that make up these larger strands add to the overall complexity of the system. Tichy (1983, 1986) suggests that when significant change occurs within organizational systems, if it is not managed properly, the organization itself, like a rope, can unravel. Furthermore, it has long been recognized that change is often met with considerable resistance from within the changing organization (e.g., Lewin, 1947; Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979). Thus, in addition to the complexity involved in managing organizational change, various opposing elements within the organization will frequently work against the change attempt, actually inviting failure rather than promoting success.
Given the challenges of managing complexity and internal resistance to change, the task of the top executive during the implementation of change can be very difficult indeed. Where significant change in involved, effective leadership, in the sense of the classic distinction between "managers" who pursue maintenance and "leaders" who embrace and facilitate the "new," seems to be required (Zaleznick, 1977). Understanding leadership in this context, though, is quite difficult, at least in part because managers enact their own beliefs about leadership, and action coming from these beliefs may or may not contribute to the success of a change effort. The challenge to understanding executive leadership becomes one of identifying effective leadership behavior in the context of the organizational turbulence stirred up in the change process, and distinguishing that behavior from any preconceived theories of effective leadership held either by the executive leader or the researcher.
Accordingly, we have developed a perspective for understanding the leadership process and executive behavior in the heart of the turbulence involved in organizational change. Our framework is designed to address executive leadership apart from the overall strategic process that initiated the change. We are not interested, for example, in executive leadership in formulating overall organizational development efforts (e.g., Beckhart, 1969). Rather, our purposes are: (1) to identify patterns in the behavior of effective executive leaders during the ongoing implementation of significant organizational change; (2) to discover how those leadership processes unfold over time; and (3) to provide pragmatic prescriptions for executives who face the challenge of leading in the face of significant, ongoing organizational change.
In reviewing the leadership literature, one quickly discovers that there are countless perspectives on leadership. According to one estimate (Terry, 1986), there are currently at least 100 accepted academic definitions of leadership. The definitions, perspectives, and boundaries …