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Lead Successfully When Change Is Demanded


Posted September 16, 2015 by Jackson Nickerson - Fraham Family Professor of Organization and Strategy - Olin Business School, Washington University

In January 2014, AACSB interviewed numerous deans and then surveyed an additional 400-plus deans to identify the leadership capabilities they need from their associate deans and department chairs. Leading change is just one of several critical capabilities identified as an area in which significant development is required among appointed leaders. This can be a daunting task for department chairs and other posts, especially with limited or no authority.

Innovation and change is simpler, when driven by the top or the bottom of an organization. But how do you lead change from the middle?

Here are three basic steps to accelerate the transformation of academic and administrative leaders into outstanding organizational leaders for their academic enterprise:

  1. Identify Your Stakeholders
    Stakeholder can generally be classified into four categories:
    • Superordinates represent all those in the direct line of authority above you in the organization—your dean, your dean’s boss, etc.—who will have an interest in the capability you are developing.
    • Subordinates are those who work directly for you or who will be contracted to support you.
    • Customers can be inside or outside of your school and are those individuals who will benefit from the new capability—faculty, students, alumni, etc.
    • Complementors/blockers are individuals outside of your immediate chain of command from whom you will need support but who also can stop your project in its tracks. Faculty and administrators commonly are found in this category.
  2. Tailor Your Approach
    Each category of stakeholders requires a different approach for communication, strategy, tactics, and sequences. For your leadership to effect change, you need all parties “In”volved.
    • Agree-In
    • Buy-In
    • Allow-In
    • Be-In
  3. Don’t go D.E.A.F.
    The third and final idea for creating organizational change focuses on keeping stakeholders from experiencing disrespect, envy, anger, and fear (D.E.A.F.). If the embers of these emotions are fanned, the flames of stakeholder emotion will make them D.E.A.F. to your change efforts. Becoming D.E.A.F. increases the likelihood that stakeholders will actively resist or undermine your leadership.

Leading change is critical, and training opportunities are limited when you are thrust into an appointed role. While these three steps scratch the surface, the Leading People and Organizational Change seminar dives into what's really involved in leading change from the “middle” effectively. With custom-designed cases and exercises, this offering allows leaders in the “middle” of their institution a way to enable engagement, innovation, and impact across the academic enterprise. Avoid getting lost in the transition. Learn more about this seminar and others in the Leading in the Academic Enterprise® Series.


Jackson Nickerson is the Fraham Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. He also is the associate dean and director of the Brookings Executive Education, and a nonresident senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Jackson is the architect of Leading Thinking™, a new approach to leadership development developed through Brookings Executive Education. He is the author of several books including Leading Change in a Web 2.1 World, Tackling Wicked Government Problems, and Leading Change from the Middle. Through executive education and consulting activities, Jackson has engaged and impacted numerous organizations for government, industries, and not-for-profits including architecture and art, chemicals, universities, finance, health care, and pharmaceuticals.

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