Working with change leaders – The overloaded change leader

crowded street with traffic and people

Written by Vicky Emery

May 6, 2020

Photo by suzukii xingfu from Pexels.

Remember the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? ‘I’m late, I’m late’…? I’ve been in this place myself – there is not enough time in the day to respond to all the demands on this change leader. They are managing and navigating a LOT of traffic! Their diary is back-to-back meetings and calls, the daily surprises that need decisions or managing, new ideas that need developing, team members needing time and they also need to run to the bathroom! It is very easy to lose track of the bigger picture and there is no time to redo things.


Firstly, stamina! I have often found this leader has incredible capacity and can make decisions quickly so they can move on. They maximise the time in the day and you can often catch them early or later in the day. Once a decision is made or instructions given, they expect that you will just get on with execution so they can provide autonomy for their team or a project.


This change leader will find themselves having to reprioritise on a daily basis. This can lead to missing project meetings or updates which can delay decisions or the opportunity to check that things are on track to their vision or outcomes. Project or agile teams can feel disconnected from the change leader and mid-level managers rely on emails as the communication channels in the absence of face-to-face time as a cohort with the change leader.

What helps

  • When you start working with them, ask for clear deliverables, boundaries within which you can work and when you will need to escalate. Be clear on what they will need to do, too.
  • Agree a regular 30 mins catch up and make sure it is in the diary for the next few months (then they don’t have to worry about it). KEEP that meeting – even if it is just a 5-10min update. It’s about a regular channel being in place.
  • When you can get time with them, keep to the point. To keep things moving, what do they need to decide, do or endorse?
  • Provide regular updates – this is more about keeping things ‘top of mind’ and to give them confidence that you are on it so don’t be surprised that they can’t remember all the details. As a senior leader, I found it helpful when my practitioner loaded updates into a Teams or Sharepoint folder (I received the notification that it was there) – I knew I could access it for the detailed information I needed when I needed it. It helps with the next step…
  • Let them know that if you come to them, it is because only they can make the next decision or be involved in the next step. You want them to know you are using their time wisely.


Our role as change practitioners is to make sure we work with them to land their change and the benefits.  To work effectively with the change leader, first seek to understand the strengths and risks they bring to their own change.


How can we help?

  • Coaching – bringing in an ‘outside’ coach can help and that’s where we come in. We are ‘neutral territory’ and our focus as a coach to you is helping you achieve the outcomes you need of the change.
  • Plan to Land Change Workshop – we work with the change leader and their steering committee or project team to build the change strategy for the change and the action plan.

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