Fall 2002
Leading in a Culture of Change
Fullan, Michael, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.
Book Report
Lucia Ribeiro
In today’s complex and rapidly changing society, effective leadership is a
necessity. A leader in any organization faces the dilemma of knowing when to act;
failing to act in a radically changing environment, or making quick decisions under
chaotic conditions can both prove fatal. Leadership is something that must be cultivated
over time at all levels of an organization. Today, leadership in business and education
increasingly has more in common, and each can learn from the other. In order to survive,
both must become learning organizations.
Leaders in these organizations face the
challenge of cultivating and sustaining learning under complex and rapidly changing
Leadership is needed for problems that do not have easy answers. To improve
leadership, an effective leader must focus on key dimensions and develop a new mind-set
about his/her responsibility to self and those with whom s/he works. Fullan identifies
five components which he believes are critical to effective leadership and the sustained
success of an organization; moral purpose, understanding the change process, building
relationships, knowledge creation and sharing, and coherence making.
Moral purpose is defined as “acting with the intention of making a positive
difference in the lives of employees, customers and society as a whole.” Moral purpose
is basically how humans evolve over time, especially in the way they relate to each other.
As people evolve, moral purpose has a tendency to grow stronger. Although moral
purpose has a natural tendency to surface, it will flourish only through effective
leadership. According to Fullan (2001), if leadership is to be effective, it has to;
1) Have an explicit ‘making a difference’ sense of purpose.
2) Use strategies that mobilize many people to tackle tough problems
3) Be held accountable by measured and debatable indicators of success
4) Be ultimately assessed by the extent to which it awakens people’s intrinsic
commitment. That is, mobilizing everyone’s sense of moral purpose.
The sustained performance of an organization is dependent on moral purpose.
The second component of leadership is understanding change. Change is
inevitable, and effective leaders will not try to control or manage the change process.
Instead, they will try to understand the change so they can lead it better.
There are
positive and negative leadership styles. Effective leaders will try to implement all of the
positive leadership styles when leading through change. They will understand and expect
a dip when implementing a new idea; that is, they will expect things to get worse before
they improve. All successful schools and organizations experience the implementation
dip. Furthermore, when implementing change, there will be people who resist. Effective
leaders listen to resisters because they may see alternatives that were missed by others.
By hearing diverse views and building in the differences, the richness of the outcome is
significantly higher.
The third component is building relationships.
Fullan (2001) believes hat
building relationships is second only to moral purpose. It is important for leaders to
focus on people and relationships as essential to getting sustained results. Good leaders
will be tough on the problem yet soft on the people. There are several factors that are
essential to creating relationships. First, clear standards must be established. Second,
good leaders always expect the best and pay attention to the people in the organization
and their needs. More important, however they pay attention to who they are, and they
believe in setting the example. Finally, they believe in personalizing recognition, telling
the story, and celebrating together.
Knowledge building, the fourth component, involves taking information,
processing it and giving it meaning.
It involves some degree of understanding and
commitment. Although knowledge creation puts demands on organizational relationships,
it later becomes the link to building relationships. Effective leaders create opportunities
for learning and knowledge building by designing settings that prompt the necessary
The fifth component of leadership is coherence making, or making a logical
connection. As stated earlier, rapidly changing and complex environments are often
times chaotic. Within chaos lies a great deal of creativity, and people do not learn and
grow unless there is a sense of chaos to create excitement and motivation. Effective
leaders establish innovative conditions and processes and guide people through the chaos.
Moral purpose plays a significant role in the coherence making process because it
involves a shared commitment to selected ideas and paths of action. If moral purpose
does not exist, the organization stays in a constant state of disequilibrium. In other
words, moral purpose provides direction to finding coherence.
In conclusion, developing leaders in a culture of change involves slow learning in
the specific environment. Effective leaders must absorb disturbances, listen attentively
and draw out new patterns. They develop leadership and improve the organization as
they go. Effective leaders develop leaders within the organization who can move the
organization even further after they are gone. Leadership in today’s rapidly changing
environment will be judged as effective or ineffective not by whom the leaders are
themselves, but rather by the leadership they produce in others.