The Art of Change Leadership

When we become CIOs, we are typically asked to fix some pervasive problem: IT Security, OMB Compliance, failing projects, etc.  Lately, I’ve been quoting Teen Talk Barbie, who if she were a CIO today, would say “Being a CIO is hard!” versus “Math is hard!”  As CIOs, we have to take the time to understand the environment that we work in.  We need to understand the needs of our customers, constituents, and stakeholders in order to help them along the needed technology, cultural, and process changes.  Without the understanding and without the requisite change leadership skills, a CIO will beat her head against a brick wall for nine months, turn around and pound the other side for nine months, then quit.


Change Leadership is about transforming an organization, through people, processes, and technology, towards some needed improvement or in a new and challenging direction.  The art of successfully doing this will energize an entire organization to WANT to go in the desired direction. 


“Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome.  No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” – Andre Gide


The art of Change Leadership is not a paint-by-numbers approach used by grade-schoolers to make a still life … it is the ways and means that the change artist coaxes a masterpiece out of the canvas of her organization.  It’s not the paint-by-numbers approach that uses only directive communication plans, it’s a flexible strategy that seeks to eliminate barriers to change, implement the change, and integrate the change in the hearts, minds, and souls of those effected.  It builds a shared vision with the community that the CIO serves. 


When we become CIOs, we have to realize we are not working in a dictatorship and that we need change leadership competencies in order move the change agenda forward. The CIO’s failure to effectively execute the art of Change Leadership will result in change that is merely temporary or in 18-month CIO lifecycles. 


Linda Y. Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


11 thoughts on “The Art of Change Leadership”

  1. So true. There are many colors to choose from when painting a masterpiece. The best paintings are rarely monochromatic. Ef

  2. It may be harder than rocket science. I’m wondering if NASA has a dedicated training program on change leadership and management versus being a within its various LAM offerings.

  3. Great insights! You’ve nailed the issue.

    More and more, leaders have to create and hold open the space within which dialogue happens. In my experience, the smartest up-front investment of resources is in defining the right problem. Business folks, most frequently, WILL define the problem from within their view of the current business process. Smart Business Analysts, complemented with tech wizards, working with the business folks can really help them reframe the problem: come up with the real business issue that needs addressing. My experience has been that if this definition is done right (and agreement always ensues if it is), the solution falls right out, and huge joint ownership of the project emerges.

    Mandeep Singh

  4. Change leadership is far to often over looked. great analogy with the artist. I look forward to more articles from you on this.

  5. I have just started implementing a new Information strategy for a gaming resource company. The problems I have been experiencing are more in how evangelize the management into switching to open technologies.

    I completely agree with you, there is nothing worse than having to compromise in the very same things you've been hired to improve just because the company moves slowly.

    Thank you for this post. found it by searching in Google for “CIO move agenda” and was exactly what I needed today

    – Hank ” ” Torres

  6. Miss Cureton,

    I like the metaphor that a leader is a “cornucoppia of vision.” It is very profound.

    Still following your theories, could you share a little more on how to develop leaders. I think we have always centered around the thought of ourself becoming leaders but I have never even conceived of making those around us becoming leaders. I have always thought that people wanted to be leaded, but now when I think about wouldn't every one be it's own leader even though there is a hierarchy. I think this shows a lot of maturity to get to this stage.

    Thank you for your advices from Montreal,
    and partner

    *hoope the message shows this time

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