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Organizational Change Leadership

A mentor once said, “you manage constraints and lead towards possibilities.” Another colleague said, “you manage things and lead people.” When it comes to organizational change, these two principles also apply. Organizational change leadership deals with how one influences other people to buy in and commit to changes and/or new ideas. As one who is in a leadership position and also who has been fortunate to have observed other effective change leaders, here are some principles I’ve come to adopt when I am leading change.

1. Go with the willing first. Realize that different folks in the organization will not be at the same level of awareness and interest regarding new ideas. For folks to buy in, they must first be made aware of the proposed changes and commit to accepting or rejecting the idea. Some folks, given their disposition, personalities, and interests, will be more willing and able to accept the proposed changes. These are the folks who can provide initial positive momentum and interests that will not only advance the implementation of the proposed change but also demonstrate to others the values of the changes as well. I’ve seen it too often, and I’ve experienced this myself when leaders are discouraged with their efforts and lack of progress because they focus too much on those unwilling to adopt the changes and the criticisms levied by those folks. But, progress will be made in focusing on willing people, and positive energy/momentum will be sustained.

2. Engage influencers in the organization. Some individuals in organizations have the credibility and respect of their peers. These are folks who are not always in management positions; rather, these are folks who are liked socially, have a reputation for getting things done, and who management can count on to get things done. These are folks that can be very beneficial in getting the buy-in of others, so when leading change; they should be approached at the beginning and throughout the efforts, so they know what’s going on for them to develop an interest in the new idea, and spread the message with their peers.

3. Use the social network effect. Related to points 1 and 2 above, create/promote a social structure where folks can share ideas in social settings. I’ve learned that department meetings are forums for announcements/awareness, but I’m not going to convince folks in one session to develop an interest in the proposed changes. Realize that when folks go to lunches or go on breaks, that’s when they often have deeper conversations about what’s going on with the departments. For this reason, working with willing and organizational influencers who can advocate for change during these casual and social conversations is important.

Organizational change can be emotionally and psychologically hard on people because it impacts their identity, value systems, reputation, and livelihood. For these reasons, folks leading organizational changes cannot overlook the significance of the individual needs and interests of those involved. In the end, folks are asking this question regarding change: “what’s in it for me?”

What other methods and principles have you used to successfully lead organizational changes?

My Professional Reading List 2015

thumbAnother year of professional growth and learning. A significant amount of my time went to my MBA (IT Mgmt Specialization) course work in 2015; I could not devote as many hours to reading about other topics I enjoy, such as higher education and student affairs. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy reading the books below. As it was with my professional reading lists for 2013  and 2014, most of the books below are kindle books I read through my iPhone and iPad. The beauty of mobile learning. Please feel free to ask me for any recommendations.

Business & Productivity

Change and Innovation

Higher Education / Student Affairs

Information Technology



Student Affairs Org Technology Leadership Competencies – MindMap

What competencies are required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level? This is a question I pondered while reviewing the Technology Competency Area within the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Area for Student Affairs Educators. I specifically mentioned “at an organizational level” because managing/leading the appropriate/effective use of technology at the divisional level differs from one who is leading the efforts at the national or individual levels. There are competencies required to run effective organizations and coordinating technology use at the divisional level. So, I combined the outcomes defined within the Technology Competency Area and my experience leading a student affairs IT department and produced the mind map of what I view as competencies required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level.


What other competencies should be included? Thanks!

Assertiveness: My Leadership Challenge as an Asian American

As of yesterday, I had been in my department’s Acting Executive Director role for one year. I lead an IT organization in a higher education institution. The day before, we held our quarterly department meeting to review our accomplishments and upcoming projects. As a typical practice after events, I asked for feedback on how the meeting went and how well I did. The staff I spoke with had positive comments. One staff shared feedback that made me think about my leadership role as an Asian American and the perceptions of leadership in higher education and even in this country. The comment that made me think about these topics was this “Joe,  you were certainly much more assertive and confident yesterday. You’re a lot different from when you started last year. My initial concern was because you’re so nice, I didn’t know how well you’d be able to deal with other directors and those more senior than you when it came to conflict. You’ve adjusted well, and I see you as more confident and assertive.”

Throughout my career, one personal trait that’s been perceived as negative regarding my leadership style has been my assertiveness or lack of. From the feedback I’ve received, I’ve been seen as not direct and not confrontational when dealing with conflicts. Whether that’s because of my personality or cultural upbringing, I don’t know why I have not been seen as “assertive” as other folks would like me to be. However,  when folks assess my assertiveness, they probably compare it to other leaders from their experience or what they see in popular media.

I grew up in a Filipino household that values harmony, and conflicts are dealt with in not-so-direct ways. When it came to conflict, saving face or preserving the dignity of those involved mattered a lot in my family and the Filipino culture. In my career, these approaches have conflicted with how those I work with expected me to deal with issues. Because I have not always been direct in confronting issues, I have been seen as weak and unsure of myself. Perhaps, others have expected me to be dominant and controlling. I’ve been more inclined to use influence and persuasion to lead. The challenge for me then has been reconciling my personal tendencies with the workplace expectations when it comes to being an assertive leader. The challenge has been determining when to use the style I’m more comfortable with vs. what others may consider assertive.

As I think about this issue of assertiveness, I wonder which opportunities I missed because I was not seen as an assertive leader. Moving forward, I wonder how this perception will shape my career. I also wonder about my prospect of moving up the management hierarchy in higher education where there’s a glaring lack of Asian American leaders who can mentor me, where my qualities may not match the Western qualities associated with leaders, and perhaps bias against me because I don’t fit the prototypical leader that hiring committees are comfortable hiring.

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Random Thoughts About Identities and Organizational Roles

I once read that identity is an intersection of how others see you and how you see yourself. As much as we want to define how we want others to see us, I think that’s pretty much impossible. We can certainly try to influence others’ perceptions of us but ultimately, what matters is how others see us. I believe that’s called reputation. The concept of identity is a complex one. It’s even more complex when one considers the role of identity in the context of social settings. When we are associated with groups, such as the organization we work for, we assume the organization’s identity and identity are shaped by its members. Actions by individual members reflect the organization and other members, while the organization’s identity impacts how its members are perceived. Have you ever walked into a meeting where you’ve never met anyone before, yet they’ve already formed an impression of you?

Those in leadership positions must sometimes have to negotiate and reconcile their identities and values with that of their organization as they don’t always match. So, how do leaders authentically represent themselves when representing their organization? What does it mean in this context to represent “themselves”? Are they representing their identities independent of the organization, or are they representing identities defined by their role in the organization?

I think about the questions above when I hear from individuals who maintain that they want to be authentic to themselves and the values they represent. Considering the possibility that there probably isn’t an organization anywhere that completely aligns with the values of every single one of its members, how will those individuals deal with this reality?

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