Executive Master of Leadership Blog

Change Leadership: How Great Leaders & Politicians Manage Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 17, 2019 11:40:31 AM / by USC Price


Dr. Carol Geffner, director of the Executive Master of Leadership program at the Price School of Public Policy at USC recently interviewed former UK Home Secretary, The Right Honourable Charles Clarke about change management and leadership.

Dr. Carol Geffner: I'm privileged to be with Charles Clarke, a distinguished fellow at USC Price. Mr. Clarke has held a range of esteemed positions in the UK; former member of parliament, education minister, and home secretary during the Tony Blair administration.

We're living today at a time of unprecedented change and the velocity of change is something that we've not seen before. This is affecting everybody. It is causing disruption in nearly every industry. I'd like to talk about how leaders, whether they be political leaders or leaders of large organizations, can prepare for a future that will be characterized by an increased velocity of change.

How can leaders manage the velocity of change?

The Right Honorable Charles Clarke:
That's a great question, Carol, you've hit it spot on. The pace of change is so fast that nobody can just do it in the way it was always done before. So, how do you face up to this?

First and foremost, you've got to really try, and think through how that change is going to happen. If it's a change in the production process of your business, or a change in the way you're recruiting students, whatever it might be, how will that change happen? That's not easy. You have to get advice from people, talk it around with people, and get a clarity of where you're going and what that means for your organization.

Leadership is not about an individual thinking this. It's about an individual working with a team and leading a team. So, talk to the people that are around you to and try to get their views. The biggest preparation that I think leaders can do is to get the people you're trying to lead to understand what the issues are, to contribute to the solutions, and engage in the discussion about where it is.

"Change is difficult because you can't predict exactly how change is going to happen, but you can give it your best shot."

Those who think about it and then make their predictions will do better than those who don't think about it at all.

Dr. Carol Geffner:  As you just suggested, getting a large body of people engaged in both a vision and also how the organization or institution is going to ultimately meet that vision is complex. This is something that leaders struggle with all the time. Oftentimes we make the mistake of believing that if we tell people where we're going, if we paint the picture, that that will be sufficient in terms of getting people on board.

How can leaders engage employees of an organization?



The Right Honorable Charles 
: You put your finger on it. The process has to be owned by the people themselves. If they're being told what to do, they may agree, but they may reject it also.

What you need is for the people to understand, be brought into the tent, to think about what the change process will mean for the organization, for themselves personally, and then be able to contribute to the outcome. That's a very difficult thing to do because change is very frightening.

You worry about losing a job, having to move the place that you work, losing money on some process, having a different boss, whatever it is, you don't know what change is going to mean. The best way you can address that problem, as a leader, is to try, and enable everybody in the organization to understand what process is happening, to own the solution, and be part of the solution.

Now, that went in to make all your attention, there's always going to be problems, there's always going to be conflict of various kinds, but it will get you to a better place in terms of thinking through how I as a person can deal with that situation and that's some real leadership talent.

How do political leaders engage citizens and motivate them to take an active interest?


The Right Honorable Charles Clarke: Some politicians are brilliant at this. The politician I work with who I thought was really outstanding, this was Tony Blair. He had a wonderful capacity to do that. I think Obama had that capacity. I think Ronald Reagan had that capacity.

"It's not about your political orientation, it's about your personality."

So what is it about the personality? It's the personality, which says, "I'm trusting you, you should trust me” and carry it through. Other politicians are not successful doing that. I think that's an issue at all levels of leadership.

Now, if you look at an issue like going into a war, for example, the most terrible of decisions that political leaders have to take, the question whether you can convey to people what's going on and enable them to feel part of that process, to own that decision, is absolutely central, and some people can and some people can't.

To what extent you can train leaders to engage a citizenry? It's a very interesting question, which I don't fully know the answer to the question. There's something instinctive with some people who achieve da brilliant level.


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Topics: Change Leadership

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