In 2008 Deborah Rowland and Malcolm Higgs, along with their Transcend colleagues, published a groundbreaking book entitled “Sustaining Change: Leadership That Works.”

The findings of the book were based on client centered rigorous research and these findings have been applied widely in many organisations.  Additionally these findings have been widely referenced by academics in the field. 

The overall impact of this practice based research has been to enable Leaders to broaden, deepen and apply their leadership of High Magnitude, Long Term and Complex Change.

In the last 7 years Transcend and their partners have continued to add to the research and understand “Leadership That Works”at an even deeper level.

In our original research we identified the following Leadership Practices:


  Edge & Tension


  Transforming Space

The research identified that sustainable change is led most successfully when all four of these practices are used in balance with each other.

We also identified a fifth practice which was termed Shaping. In general our research identified that when this Shaping practice was used it reduced the effectiveness of the other four practices.

Over the years and with more experience from our clients we have become more interested in the subtle nature of the Shaping Practices. We have been curious about how this practice is demonstrated in different organisations who are in very different phases of complex change. This led to an in depth review of these practices in the Spring/Summer of 2014. Our research was based on hundreds of responses to the Change Leadership Practices Questionnaire that we have accumulated since 2008. 

Our research review has concluded that these Shaping Practices are better described as Task Centric Practices AND Leader Centric Practices.

Task Centric practices when thoughtfully and carefully used in the context of change help to Frame Direction. They “Provide a holding frame and context in which high level accountabilities, large tasks and expectations of delivery are outlined and agreed.”

Leader Centric practices are essentially about leading others “My way”. Leaders who exhibit this practice largely “Lead others from their own, and perceived to be better, experience in a way that unintentionally limits the development of more effective change leadership capability”.

The 2014 research reinforces our practical experience that leaders must have a clear intent about the purpose of the change that they are trying to lead. They must hold this purpose consistently “in their bones” and provide some big rules and frames of what we are headed for. The way in which leaders establish these big frames, accountabilities and delivery expectations is very, very important. The way in which this is done connects deeply to the Change Approach[1] that has been chosen to lead the change. Done poorly, Task Centric leadership can feel like being done to, being told what to do and how to do it. It disables and diminished people’s sense of freedom and responsibility. Done skillfully, Task Centric leadership enables people to operate with freedom and speed within some broadly agreed “rules of the game.”

Our 2014 research also reinforces our previous conclusions that Leader Centric leadership does not help organisations achieve change in long term, highly complex, high scale and sustainable change. This is because this practice is one in which the leader tends to make themselves the focus of the action. This can often be the result of the leader relying on their positive experience of how they have lead things before and not checking whether or not that leadership is still the most appropriate. In addition there is much research that this practice results in “follower dependence” (Higgs 2003; 2009).

Our Self-Assessment reporting goes deeper

Given this new research we have adjusted and adapted the generation of our proprietary Change Leadership Practices Self-Assessment questionnaire. This self-assessment can provide you with insight into how you believe you lead change.

The report provides you with insight and practical considerations as well as a work plan of how you may begin to adjust your Change Leadership Practices. When combined with a deeper understanding of how you lead change you are on the way to more deeply knowing how you may be able to influence around 60% of the change in your organisation.

In our original research we found that leaders who showed a balance of all four practices with a minimal presence of Leader Centric practice tended to have well developed self-awareness which was associated with having a positive intent (interestingly this overlaps with the increasingly referred to theory of authentic leadership).

We hope that we have sparked your interest in how you lead change and so please contact us via Katie Jones at to learn about how you can understand more about these practices by completing a self-assessment and having a feedback session with one of our team members.

We can also discuss with you how your leadership practices and your beliefs about how change happens in your organisation may be connected and how you may go about understanding what options you may have for moving forward.

Michael Thorley and Malcolm Higgs April 2014

[1]See for more information about change approaches 

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