A grounded theory investigation of change leadership during turbulent times
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The purpose of this study was to investigate change leadership as it was experienced by incumbent leaders in a multinational, Fortune 100 company. Leaders were faced with an unrelenting and turbulent period of destabilizing conditions in their company, including significant changes in technologies, competition, economic distress, and continued downsizing of the employee population. The turbulence forced the leaders to develop a new mindset about their organization in order to cope with the changes. I was particularly interested in the interpersonal and intrapersonal behaviors of seven upper-echelon leaders during the corporate transformation. The approach was grounded theory. Data were analyzed for possible themes, and models were built and then juxtaposed with the literature for authenticity. Findings show that the executives experienced a series of stages during the turbulence: denial, determination, disequilibrium, and disengagement. There were specific triggers to each phase of the process: latitude diminished, loyalty to key principles in the organization were removed, and continuity and stability of the organization were compromised. New terms and definitions for change leadership are offered (e.g., latitude, loyalty, continuity). The study is important for two reasons. First, it adds to the qualitative research on change leadership theory by introducing new models and definitions not considered in the current body of literature. Second, corporate transformations and large-scale change initiatives continue to be a requirement for survival for many companies undergoing significant and traumatic change, and yet the transformative results have been difficult to achieve. This study assists change agents who are helping organizations through the implementation of large-scale change initiatives by providing an analytical model that details specific triggers of engagement that are critical for success.