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'Leading In a Culture of Change' Book Review

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Business
Wordcount: 2827 words Published: 9th Sep 2021

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Leading in a culture of change by Michael Fullan is a small but powerful book on the dynamics of change and the role of leadership in managing and coping with the change process.

Michael Fullan, the dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toranto is an international authority on educational reforms .Fullan opens by quoting Robert Steinberg: “The essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly” (p. x). Fullan is concerned with not only the decision, but the timing involved in making the correct decision. He argues that good leadership is not inborn rather one must learn to lead by mastering five core competencies- moral purpose, understanding change process, relationship building, knowledge building and coherence building. Fullan devotes an entire chapter to each competency and illustrates each concept with a solid and provocative collection of public education and private corporation cases. This makes the book a useful tool for an administrative team workshop or school board. It would stimulate excellent discussion on mission and purpose and the climate in which a healthy organization can change for the better. He also articulates three personal characteristics (energy, enthusiasm, hope) that all effective leaders possess.

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This book offers a realistic perspective to those who are at the beginning of their leadership career and should be inspiring to those who have attained their peaks. The ambiguities of change forces in the schools are more easily understood after considering Fullan’s insights into organizational change and leadership. He neither oversimplifies the mission of the school administrator nor makes the work appear impossible.

Fullan offers advice for leaders to help them rise above the challenges of the new technology, a changing market place and the crises in the public scenario. He argues that leadership today requires the ability to mobilize constituents to do important but difficult work under conditions of constant change.

Fullan demonstrates that successful leaders in education and business have much in common. He took an equal number of change case studies in education and in business and examined leaders behavior and mindsets.

The first chapter, “A Remarkable Convergence”, conveys the theme of the book. The author advises that “change cannot be managed. It can be understood and perhaps led, but it cannot be controlled.” This chapter is devoted to the discussion of effective leadership, stating within the first page “this is not the book about super leaders. Charismatic leaders inadvertently often do more harm than good because, at best, they provide episodic improvement followed by frustrated or despondent dependency. Superhuman leaders also do us another disservice: they are role models who can never be emulated by large numbers” (p. 1). The author weaves the business world and the educational world together as learning organizations, stating that if they fail to evolve together they will fail to survive. He suggests five themes for successful leadership: moral purpose, understanding change, developing relationships, knowledge building and coherence making.

Fullan argues that “when the goal is sustainable change in a knowledge society, business and education leaders increasingly have more in common. Like the business leader, the principal of the future – the Cultural Change Principal – must be tuned to the big picture, a sophisticated conceptual thinker who transforms the organization through people and teams”

In chapter 2, “Moral Purpose”, Fullan argues that all five components are strongly connected with each other. Moral purpose is seen as both an end and means. In education, every “leader”, whether an administrator or teacher must see an important end, making a difference in the lives of students. He continues by stating that, “if you don’t treat others fairly, you will be a leader without followers” (p. 13). Fullan describes two excellent examples of moral purpose. The Monsanto Company’s remarkable transformation, under its new CEO, Robert Shapiro, started with a series of “town hall meetings” discussing the unsustainable problems of hunger facing humanity. That discussions lead to ten thousand of Monsanto’s employees becoming involved feeding the world. The second example is the national Literacy and Numeracy strategy, the nation wide initiative to improve both the literacy and numeracy of Great Britain’s twenty thousand schools in which Fullan has been an active participant. The author clearly makes his point; social consciousness and the concept of being a good citizen apply internally as well as externally whether in the business or educational system.

In chapter three “Understanding Change,” Fullan states that the purpose of this book is to understand change in order to lead it better. . . .the goal is to develop a greater feel for leading complex change, and to develop a mind-set and action set that are constantly cultivated and refined.” Page 34 of this book states that, “change can be led, and leadership does make a difference”. He suggests that having innovative ideas and understanding the change process is not the same thing. Indeed, the case can be made that those firmly committed to their own ideas are not necessarily good change agents because being a change agent involves getting commitment from others who might not like one’s ideas. Fullan quotes Kotter`s eight step process for initiating top down transformation (1996, p. 21)


  • Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  • Creating a Guiding Coalition
  • Developing a Vision and Strategy
  • Communicating the Change Vision
  • Empowering Broad-Based Action
  • Generating Short-Term Wins
  • Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change
  • Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

Further he quotes Beer, Eisenstat, and Spectors observations (1990) about drawing about bottom-up ideas and energies


  • Mobilize commitment to change through joint diagnosis(with people in the organization) of business problem
  • Develop a shared vision of how to organize and manage for competitiveness
  • Foster concerns for the new vision, competence to enact it, and cohesion to move it along
  • Spread revitalization to all departments without pushing it from the top
  • Institutionalize revitalization through formal policies, systems and structure
  • Monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the revitalization process

Then Fullan shares Hamel’s advice (2000) to lead the revolution

Step 1: Build a point of view

Step 2: Write a manifesto

Step 3: Create a coalition

Step 4: Pick your targets and pick your moments

Step 5: Co-opt and neutralize

Step 6: Find a translator

Step 7: Win small win early, win often

Step 8: Isolate, infiltrate, integrate

He offers the following guidelines for understanding change:


  1. The goal is not to innovate the most. Innovating selectively with coherence is better.
  2. Having the best ideas is not enough. Leaders’ help others assess and find collective meaning and commitment to new ways.
  3. Appreciate the implementation dip. Leaders can’t avoid the inevitable early difficulties of trying something new. They should know, for example, that no mater how much they plan for the change, the first six months or so of implementation will be bumpy.
  4. Redefine resistance. Successful leaders don’t mind when naysayers rock the boat. In fact, doubters sometimes have important points. Leaders look for ways to address those concerns.
  5. Reculturing is the name of the game. Much change is structural and superficial. Transforming culture – changing what people in the organization value and how they work together to accomplish it – leads to deep, lasting change.
  6. Never a checklist, always complexity. There is no step-by-step shortcut to transformation; it involves the hard, day-to-day work of reculturing.

The Cultural Change Principal knows the difference between being an expert in a given content innovation and being an expert in managing the process of change. This principal does not make the mistake of assuming that the best ideas will carry the day. Instead, the Cultural Change Principal provides opportunities for people to visit sites that are using new ideas, invites questions and even dissent, and expects the change process to proceed in fits and starts during the first few months of implementation. Nevertheless, such a principal forges ahead and expects progress within a year because he or she has nurtured the conditions that yield results sooner rather than later.

The title of chapter four, “Relationship, Relationship, Relationship,” is self explanatory. Success of any venture depends upon the people involved in the change process. Leaders must be skillful relationship builders with diverse people and groups. The single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, things get better. If they remain the same or get worse ground is lost. Effective leaders constantly foster purposeful interaction and problem solving. They are wary of easy consensus. Emotional intelligence is at the core of leaders who are continuously successful in a culture of change. Fullan makes an excellent point concerning change while discussing high stakes testing. We must resist the urge to focus on short term results by placing our emphasis on long-term results and the systemic improvements that will generate the lasting change we are seeking.

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The chapter five is knowledge building. Leaders need to commit themselves to constantly generating and increasing knowledge inside and outside the organization. Effective leaders understand the value and role of knowledge creation; they make it a priority and set about establishing and reinforcing habits of knowledge exchange among organizational members. Fullan describes a number of strategies used in education, business, and the military for turning information into knowledge by engaging people in an orchestrated social process. The key skill here is to convert information to knowledge through purposeful social interactions.

In chapter six, “coherence building,” the author takes the reader on a journey of guiding people through their differences and enabling those differences to surface. He builds on the hypothesis that creative ideas and novel solutions are often generated when the status quo is disrupted. He discusses the frustration felt by many when a school district has a large number of “improvement programmes” operating at the same time. Fullan argues that we are in complex (rather than chaotic) times and that the central tendency of dynamic, complex systems is to constantly generate overload causing fragmentation, uncertainty and confusion. Effective leaders guide people through differences and enable differences to surface while creating coherence. They tolerate enough ambiguity to keep creative juices flowing, but seek coherence along the way. They ensure strategies are in place to keep people focused and moving in a purposeful direction.

In chapter seven, “The Hare and The Tortoise,” Fullan refers to the Fontaine’s Fable of the hare and the tortoise. Developing leaders are more “tortoise-like than hare-like”. Three powerful lessons about leadership are identified: the vital and paradoxical need for slow knowing overtime, the importance of learning in context , and the need for leaders at all levels of the organization, in order to achieve wide spread internal commitment. Good leaders foster leadership at other levels. Leadership at other levels produces a steady stream of future leader for the system as a whole. Fullan concludes that leaders in a culture of change will be judged as effective or ineffective not simply by their results and who they are as leaders, but by the leadership they develop in others.

Fullan’s writing style is more familiar than authoritative with liberal amount of case histories from both the business world and the world of education. The theme of this book is that all of us can improve our leadership abilities simply by focusing on a small number of key dimensions. Fullan ties each chapter to the previous one re-emphasizing the previous chapter through reinforcement in the current one.

This book states that two things have occurred in recent times that have aided the discovery and pursuit of effective leadership. The first is that the knowledge base of what it takes to be an effective leader is getting broader and deeper, and with more insight. The second thing that happened is that there are many more examples of transformation in both business and education.

In reading this text and then reviewing it, I concluded that there were three basic premises that were utilized to accomplish the purpose of the book. I think that the first premise was found within the verbiage of the preface, which related that “this book is about how leaders can focus on certain key change themes that will allow them to lead effectively under messy conditions. This book is also about how leaders foster leadership in others, thereby making themselves dispensable in the long run” (p. x) The second premise is that “each and every leader, whether the CEO of a multinational corporation or a school principal, can become much more effective by focusing on a small number of core aspects of leadership and by developing a new mind-set about the leader’s responsibility to himself or herself and to those with whom he or she works” (p. 2). The premise this book uses to achieve its purpose is that it “delves into the complexities of leadership . . . It provides insights, strategies, and, ultimately, better theories of knowledge and action suited to leadership in complex times” (p. 10).

The book lists five components of leadership that were discussed and reviewed (in detail in separate chapters) to support the three premises that were utilized to achieve its purpose. These five components were: moral purpose (which means acting with the intentions of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers, and society as a whole), understanding the change process (I think this is self-explanatory), relationships (which means consummating relationships with diverse people and groups; effective leaders constantly foster interaction and problem solving, and are wary of easy consensus), knowledge creation and sharing (which represents a merging of the previous three components to arrive at something new to help or facilitate the change or an understanding of it), and coherence (which is eliminating the ambiguity associated with new knowledge created and shared – connecting the new knowledge to existing knowledge).

The book argues that by utilizing these five components, we have the correct checks and balances for “simultaneously letting go and reining in. When leaders act in the ways recommended, they will disturb the future ‘in a manner that approximates the desired outcomes,’ Leading in a Culture of Change integrates the most current ideas and theories on effective leadership to support and illustrate five core competencies for leading in complex times. Fullan links components of his leadership framework with concrete examples and cases used in education and business. Moreover it allows the reader to apply the methods gradually. I found the book easy to read and quite enlightening, reinforcing some of my personal beliefs concerning successful leadership styles in the culture of change. Leading in a culture of change deals with the complexities of leadership; it provides insights, strategies and better theories of knowledge and action suited to leadership in difficult times. This book is a call for action, equipping leaders with ideas and strategies for deep success. I found this book both enjoyable and enlightening. Each page offered positive in sight into leading the change process. I would recommend this book to all administrators, whether at the central office level or on the campus. It would be an excellent centerpiece for staff development revolving around the change process. Fullan does not lead the reader to believe that by following simple steps all will work out fine. Instead he offers a path to change with many positive examples of company’s and educational systems growing, developing, and maturing towards a common goal.


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