My leadership learning experiences with change provided an opportunity to test and fully appreciate that there are several placements on which you can find yourself on the face of a transformational change wave. 

If you are too far ahead, the wave will crash down and you will be at the mercy of its violent surge.  If you are tentative and fail to harness the available energy, you run the risk of being left behind. If you place yourself in perfect trim and continue to make adjustments, you can actually ride the wave.

The following five connected and overlapping principles impact the riding and ability to adapt to transformational change waves.


Clarity of purpose is not just ‘nice to have,’ but a critical driver of success in performance improvement and change. This is particularly true of large-scale change in complex organisations. A clear purpose with unified goals reduces the emergence of sub-agendas that can lead to silo and turf wars. Strong relationships foster the communication necessary to create networks and the emergence of new ideas, practices, and systems. Strong relationships thrive in an environment/culture that is accompanied with trust and respect. Without clarity of purpose, it is difficult, if not impossible, to adequately align efforts.


A smooth operating system is not the product of a series of isolated actions but rather stems from orchestrating the right combination of interactions at the right time for the right person in the right places.  However, “alignment” is not a concept that is particularly well understood. Rather than aligning the components of culture, skill, knowledge, structure, and strategy—the actual requirements for system alignment—we tend to focus almost exclusively on the component of “structure.” As a noun, alignment refers to the degree of integration of an organisation’s core systems, structures, processes, and skills, as well as to the degree of connectedness of the people to the organisation strategy. As a verb, alignment is a force like magnetism. It is what happens to scattered iron filings when you pass a magnet over them. Credibility of leadership influences alignment of people and organisational space activities between the black boxes and lines on the organisational chart.


If people don’t trust leadership, share the vision, or buy into the reason for the reform, and if they are excluded from the planning process, there will be no successful reform, regardless of how brilliant the strategy. Credibility is a foundation of leadership; if people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message. With clarity of purpose, alignment of effort, and credibility of leadership, organisational integrity grows.


Politics, resources, relationships, and structures flow in a complicated dance that is rarely predictable. Strong core values, flexibility, and adaptability are essential when working with an erratic environment. Success means encouraging diversity and different points of view. 


We often rush towards accountability without any foundation principles on which to base accountability. Clarity of purpose, alignment of effort, the credibility of the organisation, and integrity of leadership set the table for implementation. These elements help form culture, the customs, traditions, and practices played out in day-to-day relationships.


Back to the ‘riding a wave’ analogy, discovering where you need to allow you to become one with the wave. Leadership is about exhibiting courage and boldness to manoeuvre through the present turbulence and pandemonium. Being bold requires perseverance, commitment, confidence, and strength of character. It requires a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness. As the transformational waves peak and subside, the leader needs to chart the course, ride each wave with finesse and conviction, and ultimately stay focused on the end game. Flexibility and dexterity are required to conquer the waves of change and to navigate a new course, if necessary. 

In changes that you have been involved in, was clarity of purpose clear? Did people ask what they were trying to win in order to fulfil their purpose? Were leaders aware of the risks of misalignment? Did the size of the organization (number of employees, number of business lines, variety, and expectations) create complexity and challenges to alignment of effort?  

THIS IS AN ADAPTATION of a leadership vignette titled ‘Change Principles’ in the book “HUMANIZING LEADERSHIP: Reflection Fuels, People Matter, Relationships Make the Difference.” By Hugh MacLeod. FriesenPress, 2019.