Organizational Change in Colleges and Universities

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Leaders in educational institutions are challenged to address the needs of stakeholders within the constantly changing environment. Any changes in the stakeholders’ demands can provoke the need for a new initiative proposed by leaders. Such external factors as government and state funding can also lead to creating the necessity of a change in the organization (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011). Administrators and heads of colleges and universities plan to manage the change in their organizations in situations when this radical approach will guarantee positive outcomes for all stakeholders (Hong et al., 2013; Lawrence, 2011). According to the principles of the leadership theory, the problem is in the fact that the process of leading change is significantly influenced by leaders’ abilities or inabilities to cope with the challenge; motivate employees to accept the associated change; communicate the specific vision of the change; and propose the effective plan of actions (Lawrence, 2011; Lee & Lee, 2015).

The leader should also form the working team, realize the scheduled steps, and persuade stakeholders that the adopted initiative will result in different benefits for the organization. If the approach selected by the leader for working with subordinates to manage the change is not efficient, the initiative often results in a failure (Jansen, 2015; Naicker & Mestry, 2015). Theorists discussing particular features of the change process note that leadership is one of the main qualities and factors to influence the success of the organization’s activities to overcome the challenge and achieve the strategic goal associated with the re-organization of previously followed programs, systems, and patterns (Lawrence, 2011; Nordin, 2012; Scott, 2011). Leaders need to have certain traits and develop the particular style and vision, as well as to follow the certain steps in managing the change in order to achieve the high results.

The purpose of this research is to analyze what leadership traits or styles can prevent administrators in educational institutions from failing in leading change and what aspects of the leadership theory influence this process. The discussion of this problem is supported by analyzing the trends in using the leadership theory in the higher education field and possible future actions in this sphere. The paper also provides recommendations for the effective application of the leadership theory in the area of leading change in colleges and universities.

Problem Statement

The problem is in the fact that the modern environment for the higher education in the United States is rather complex, and it develops dynamically while making leaders focus on accepting and promoting the change in their organizations. Leaders in colleges and universities face a problem of transforming not only institutional factors, including programs, policies, duties of the staff, and the schedule, but also the culture (Travis & Scott, 2014, p. 2; Wanger & Sornlertlumvanich, 2012, p. 12). Administrators often need to address the issue of the personnel’s resistance to the change because it can lead to their inabilities to respond to students’ demands (Jansen, 2015; Tucker, Young, & Koschoreck, 2012).

Those leaders who cannot organize the change process effectively, motivate the stakeholders to follow the change, and unlock the staff’s potential can fail because they cannot share the vision of change and associated tasks to complete the process as the productive team (Lawrence, 2011; Painter & Clark, 2015). Focusing on the leadership theory and the theory of leading change in organizations, it is possible to state that the leaders’ failures usually depend on their styles and approaches to managing the change. The connection between the leadership theory and the ability to manage the change in the college and university settings should be discussed in detail in order to provide efficient recommendations for administrators.

Literature Review

The organizational change becomes a necessity in many colleges and universities not only in the United States but also globally. The orientation of institutions to the change can be viewed as a response to the ICT revolution and to the need for integrating innovations in the teaching-learning process. Researchers also note that modern leaders need to address changes in funding, and the increased competition among educational institutions (Boone, 2015; Gonzales & Pacheco, 2012, p. 52). Korach (2011) discusses the organizational change as a prolonged process, and the leader’s task is to adapt the staff to the observed changes in order to achieve the higher results regarding performance and completion of strategic goals.

Naicker and Mestry (2015) note that the process of leading change in a college or university does not differ from corporate transformations in any other organization with a large number of staff and stakeholders interested in the successful results of the change. The priority tasks of a leader are to communicate the change goals clearly, to develop the effective plan of actions, and avoid the failure in managing the change while monitoring the process (Naicker & Mestry, 2015, p. 3; Wanger & Sornlertlumvanich, 2012, p. 12). These tasks need to be realized in the context of the concrete scheme adopted in the leadership theory.

The traditional schemes developed for leading change in the organization are not numerous. Lee and Lee (2015) state that while orienting to the change, a leader in a college or university follows the typical stages determined according to Lewin’s model of change that includes three main steps. The first step is unfreezing, the second step is changing, and the third step is refreezing (Lee & Lee, 2015, p. 5). A good leader needs to motivate the staff to adopt the change at the first stage of the process, to act according to the new rules and assess the results of the process at the second stage, as well as to spread the new behaviors and visions at the last stage of the process (Jansen, 2015; Lee & Lee, 2015, p. 6). The success of applying this model in the college and university settings is dependent on the style of leadership that is typical for an administrator in the educational institution.

In order to address the challenge of managing the change, leaders need to refer to advantages typical for their leadership styles while overcoming possible challenges. The role of the leadership style in the process of leading the change is accentuated by Lee and Lee who state that the “predominant leadership style determines the management of change, as well as the achievement of improvement and effectiveness” (Lee & Lee, 2015, p. 4). Boone (2015) notes that the effective leader is that person who is able not only to involve the employees in the process of transformation and in making the change but also to gain the response from his followers.

According to the researcher, the most effective approaches to leading change are associated with the transformational leadership (Boone, 2015, p. 276). Transformational leaders usually demonstrate higher levels of skills in communicating the need for a change and in assisting the staff in adapting to the new working process or principles (Boone, 2015, p. 276; Jansen, 2015). Bogler, Caspi, and Roccas (2013) also argue that transformational leaders work not only to motivate employees to accept the new change but also to maximize the benefits and organizational successes associated with the implemented change. Transformational and motivating leaders are discussed as the best leaders to manage change not only in colleges and universities but also in businesses.

Lee and Lee (2015) also note that according to the leadership theory, transformational leaders are oriented to interact with their subordinates following the principles of integrity, honesty, openness, and support. As a result, these leaders can make their employees collaborate while managing the change and communicating this vision to the other employees within the organization. This aspect is important to be noted because ineffective leaders often fail to achieve high results in their activities and changes when they cannot improve the interaction with employees and make them trust the leaders’ ideas and visions (Naicker & Mestry, 2015). Researchers agree that good leaders are inspirational.

The other important leadership styles to support the management of the organizational change in a college or university are the relationship-oriented leadership and transactional leadership oriented to developing the effective plan of actions (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011, p. 611). Hong et al. (2013) note that the skills required for promoting the change in the educational setting should include the orientation to the staff’s needs, developed communication skills, developed organizational skills, the readiness to support the employees, and the readiness to address the possible resistance. If transformational and relationship-oriented leaders can motivate the personnel and address the people’s resistance to the change, transactional leaders are more focused on the plan, and the process of managing the change can be rather challenged.

The problem is also in the fact that administrators in colleges and universities are often representatives of those leadership styles that are not appropriate for leading change in an academic setting. Scott states that the prevailing leadership styles in educational institutions can be divided into two categories: the first one is that “fails to develop sufficiently robust styles of professional management”, and the second one is that “encourages conventional thinking and behaviour which go unchallenged because most university leaders have been bred within the system” (Scott, 2011, p. 233). Those values and principles to which educators and administrators refer during the years of work can prevent them from adopting and leading the change successfully. If a leader in a college or university is oriented to previous organizational patterns and not ready to promote the change, these attitudes can also be typical for employees who began to resist any variant of the planned change (Nordin, 2012; Travis & Scott, 2014).

In his work, Tjeldvoll (2011) identifies several barriers that can be faced by leaders in the sphere of education when they plan to implement the change. These barriers include the employees’ resistance as the main challenge, the lack of the resource base for realizing the necessary change, the lack of leadership to communicate the goals of the change, and the lack of skills in the effective planning of the change. According to Painter and Clark, the obstacles also include “cultures that are change averse, unnecessary processes, inefficient decision-making, contradictory accountability and reward systems, implementation strategies that are “unproductive or nonexistent,” and inconsistent quality in the delivery of the core activities of learning, research and engagement” (Painter & Clark, 2015, p. 187).

These problems can lead administrators in colleges and universities to ceasing the change process. Another problem is that the results of the implemented change can be unsuccessful (Tucker et al., 2012, p. 157). The researchers state that the effective management of the change depends on the leader’s ability to address the challenge and persuade the employees, including the administration and teaching staff, that the change is necessary and advantageous to them in spite of efforts made at the current stage (Boone, 2015; Painter & Clark, 2015). Situations, when a leader cannot communicate the goals of the change and convince the stakeholders to participate in the process, result in failures that can affect the competitive advantage of a college or university.

Leadership Theory and Leading the Organizational Change in Colleges and Universities

Leaders in such academic settings as colleges and universities currently face a problem of managing the change that is a result of integrating new policies in the practice, institutions’ mergers, and developing new approaches to the study process. Many external and internal factors can lead to the necessity of the organizational change that usually involves both instructors and students, including the changes in funding, as well as educational programs and policies (Gonzales & Pacheco, 2012, p. 52; Lawrence, 2011; Painter & Clark, 2015).Expectations related to administrators and the members of the educational committee increase when the need for the change becomes obvious. The reason is that the success of the change in an educational institution is based on abilities of leaders to create the specific climate for managing the change process. Researchers state that forward-thinking educational organizations succeed in leading change when leaders are open to innovations and their interaction with stakeholders of the process is effective (Hong et al., 2013, p. 282; Korach, 2011, p. 660). Differences in approaches of leaders to managing the change influence the results and expected outcomes.

According to the scholarly literature, transformational leaders have more skills to manage the change in a college or university successfully than administrators who follow the other leadership style (Bogler et al., 2013; Naicker & Mestry, 2015). The reason is that transformational leaders have the personal impact on employees, and they can motivate and inspire instructors to adopt the change while creating the positive environment of collaboration in an institution (Boone, 2015; Jansen, 2015; Lawrence, 2011). Following the theory of leading change in an organization, the leader’s demonstrated behavior should be transformational in its nature in order to achieve certain results despite the followed leadership style (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011, p. 612; Naicker & Mestry, 2015). Bogler et al. (2013) explain this idea stating that any leader managing the change should start and complete the controversial process of transforming his organization, and this process requires significant skills and competencies.

Those leaders who fail to develop the positive interaction with their subordinates and the members of the educational committees can demonstrate negative results in managing the change and achieving strategic goals because they cannot contribute to transforming the personnel’s vision regarding the necessity of the change (Jansen, 2015). According to Painter and Clark (2015), different communication channels and motivating techniques should be used by leaders in order to make educators understand the necessity of the change in the concrete setting. Modern educational institutions regularly face a challenge of leading change, and they often fail to organize this complex process because of their inability to set tasks clearly and distribute duties and responsibilities efficiently (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011; Wanger & Sornlertlumvanich, 2012, p. 12). The lack of the proper communication is one of the main causes of such failures. Colleges and universities often stop continuing the program implementation or other change because of leaders’ impossibilities to convince the staff to work at the problem and accept the required changes.

The research and practice of leaders in colleges and universities demonstrate that the management of the change in the academic setting is a challenging task because leaders need to find the right words in order to persuade the staff to work in the context of new conditions and direct employees to the success. According to Tjeldvoll, any conditions are influential, and work of the leader oriented to the success is based on many factors that can affect the change process, “due to differences in university traditions, different national economy and different status of the professoriate, the speed of change varies” (Tjeldvoll, 2011, p. 219). Tjeldvoll also continues that the effective organizational change in an academic setting depends on the leader’s “quest for a renewed capacity to make relevant decisions about visions and missions” (Tjeldvoll, 2011, p. 220).

The speed of the change process is also based on the absence of conflicting ideas, norms, and objectives presented by the team leading change in the concrete organization (Jansen, 2015). A leader can persuade the stakeholders regarding the necessity of the change, and he can influence the speed of the change process when stakeholders are oriented to pursuing the same goal, and they see the same benefits. Nordin (2012) states that effective leaders in colleges and universities try to win the support of chancellors and deans in order to promote the change in the atmosphere of the mutual understanding. If a dean or managers are initiators and promoters of the change, they also need to focus on winning the support of the educational institution’s head to adapt the change activities to the strategic goals of the organization and work to increase the confidence in the faculty.

Trends in Leading Change in Educational Institutions

Each organization follows its unique approach to leading change that is influenced by the specifics of the setting and industry. Colleges and universities are educational organizations with a large number of stakeholders, and the process of the change involves the personnel, students, and the community members. Wanger and Sornlertlumvanich (2012) note that institutional changes in colleges and universities can significantly affect the development of the community and influence the level of the higher education in the concrete region. Modern trends in the sphere of leading change in educational institutions include mergers related to college and university systems, transitions involving college and university heads, and the implementation of new policies and programs (Lawrence, 2011; Naicker & Mestry, 2015; Travis & Scott, 2014, p. 3).

Administrators also distinguish such issues and trends as changes in the curriculum and schedule to address the government and state requirements or reductions in funding, changes in the management, and changes in the culture of the organization (Hong et al., 2013; Korach, 2011; Lawrence, 2011). The mentioned issues are regarded as trends in the modern sphere of the higher education in the United States and globally because these changes often become challenging for a leader to address, and they require significant leadership skills and resources to result in the organizational success.

Mergers in the sphere of higher education are the most challenging processes for leaders because they also involve changes in curricula, culture, interactions, and the workflow. An effective leader needs to address all these transformations in the working process simultaneously while assisting the personnel to adapt to the new conditions (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011; Naicker & Mestry, 2015; Travis & Scott, 2014, p. 3). Despite such problems, mergers are the current trend in the field because this strategy is selected by leaders as a response to financial and cultural obstacles.

The other trend is related to changes associated with transitions of chancellors and deans. While leading change in an educational institution, presidents often choose to realize the necessary transition in order to improve the work of the certain faculty or department. As a result of such transitions, subordinates face the problem of adapting to the new leadership style, and presidents often fail to communicate the necessity of the change clearly and attractively, as well as to prepare the necessary background for completing the change (Bogler et al., 2013; Gonzales & Pacheco, 2012). Painter & Clark (2015) note that transitions and other administration changes can be effective only when the faculty or other stakeholders feel the need for the transition and believe that the change will have positive outcomes for the organization. Bogler et al. (2013) state that leaders need to be transformational and to inspire the personnel in order to complete such type of the change in the highly competitive educational settings.

Globalization and the active integration of the information and communication technologies in the educational process cause policy-makers to develop new programs and standards for the higher education in the United States. Leaders in educational institutions face a challenge of reacting to the new tendencies promptly, and their main step is the change management in order to meet the set goals. The trend tends to develop because more colleges and universities change their traditional approaches to the educational process and focus on leading change (Hong et al., 2013, p. 283; Jansen, 2015).

These approaches require many efforts, and leaders often choose the easiest ways to adopt the change in order to address the core standards and policy requirements and diminish the negative effect of the stressful situation of the change on the staff (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011; Lawrence, 2011; Naicker & Mestry, 2015). The focus on innovations in the academic sphere is typical for policy-makers, and many educational leaders face a problem of managing the change in their institution in order to address the recent trend and attract more students.

Those colleges and universities that do not choose the complex institutional change often refer to the cultural change that is oriented to improving the approach to interactions of instructors and administrators, as well as instructors and students. The cultural change usually results in the highest level of resistance demonstrated by the personnel, and leaders need to apply their skills and knowledge to overcoming such barrier to implementing the change in the organization (Boone, 2015; Lawrence, 2011; Korach, 2011). Researchers state that the staff training is one of the most effective responses of leaders and managers to this trend (Boone, 2015, p. 276; Jansen, 2015; Naicker & Mestry, 2015). The task of leaders is to make employees aware of their new culture and administrators’ expectations regarding interactions and performance. When leaders begin the implementation of the cultural change in the educational institution they can also note that this activity is rather challenging in spite of involving fewer resources than the institutional change.

The Future Actions Associated with Leading Change in Colleges and Universities

Current trends in the field of the higher education in the United States provide the evidence to state that the future actions in these educational settings will include the focus on the collaboration of employees within an institution and on the collaboration of employees between institutions within one educational system. The future changes in the theory application to the academic settings will also include the focus on not only transformational leadership but also the instructional leadership (Jansen, 2015). One more expected change in the visions and practices is associated with the focus on stakeholders and agents of the shifts in educational systems and programs.

Researchers claim that the focus on mergers typical for the educational institutions globally will be spread, and there will be changes in the leadership approach to this process (Jansen, 2015; Naicker & Mestry, 2015; Travis & Scott, 2014, p. 4). Leaders in institutions continue to promote the change regarding mergers based on the effective collaboration. According to the leadership theory, collaboration is a necessary element of managing the change that is required in order to guarantee the quick adaptation to the change of more employees, with the focus on the active spread of the vision of change among stakeholders (Gonzales & Pacheco, 2012, p. 52; Lawrence, 2011). The collaboration of leaders at different levels and subordinates contributes to the improved communication and connections, as well as to the formulation of clear strategic goals that are oriented to address the collective needs. Educational institutions are developing systems, and leaders need to address the issue of the employees’ collaboration while focusing on the change promotion in order to achieve the high results.

The focus on the transformational leadership is expected to shift to the accentuation of the instructional leadership qualities. The reason is that the principles and approaches of the instructional leadership are more correlated with the realities of the educational settings (Bogler et al., 2013; Jansen, 2015; Lee & Lee, 2015). The success of implementing the change will depend on the system-wide approach, and the new behavioral pattern is necessary for the leader to achieve the success under the changed conditions. Researchers note that the combination of the elements of transformational leadership with the principles of the instructional leadership is important to persuade more stakeholders regarding the benefits of the change to achieve the better outcomes because of the combined efforts (Lawrence, 2011; Painter & Clark, 2015, p. 187). The advantages of such approach are in the fact that a leader who can combine and utilize the practices typical for different leadership styles can communicate with employees and students openly and effectively while convincing them to adopt the new vision and behavioral patterns.

Scott (2011) notes that future actions of leaders managing the change will be directed to not only addressing strategic goals as priorities for leading change but also to meeting the interests of instructors, professors, and students. The stakeholders’ expectations are significant to determine in what way an organization will develop in the future in order to remain competitive within the higher education industry. The reason is that all the implemented innovations, programs, and systems work effectively only when they are supported by stakeholders (Jansen, 2015). If innovations and changes are not regarded by stakeholders as meaningful, leaders in educational institutions face a problem of the change failure.

Lawrence (2011) states that more reviews and monitoring will be used in the future in order to conduct the effective needs assessments and implement the change appropriate for the concrete setting and situation. In spite of the fact that this approach is also followed today, administrators leading change cannot achieve the success because they cannot see subordinates and other stakeholders as active supporters of their visions. Tjeldvoll (2011) notes that the problem of the failed change projects is based not only on the approach used by the leader to communicate the vision of change but also on the reputation of the leader among stakeholders, as well as on the responsiveness of the leader to the needs of employees. Leaders need to refer first to employees and students in order to decide on the necessity of the concrete change in the future.

Recommendations for Addressing the Problem and Applying the Leadership Theory

The application of the leadership theory of change to the academic field requires formulating certain recommendations for administrators and heads of colleges and universities. According to Lawrence (2011), leaders in educational institutions can become more productive in relation to managing the change if they become more responsive to the stakeholders’ needs, more flexible in selecting change promotion strategies for the concrete institution and group of stakeholders, and more active in relation to involving the subordinates in the process of the change implementation in the organization. These ideas are also supported by such researchers as Lee and Lee (2015), who state that effective leaders are usually responsive and encouraging.

Referring to the determined features and traits typical for the effective leader, it is possible to provide recommendations for administrators in the sphere of higher education. In order to achieve high results in managing the change in the educational institution, (1) leaders need to change their ineffective leadership styles and select the transformational leadership as a pattern; (2) they should refer to the results of the needs assessment procedures before starting the implementation of the change; and (3) they need to organize the change process according to the traditional theoretical and practical models of change in the organization. Leaders also (4) need to set the performance indicators during the change implementation process with the focus on the concrete institutional setting; and (5) they are expected to demonstrate flexibility and responsiveness regarding the stakeholders’ visions of the change success.

The focus on the transformational leadership is important for an administrator to achieve the high results in managing the change because a head of the faculty or an administrator in a college or university needs to attract all employees and persuade to accept the change as beneficial for the further organizational development. Transformational leaders often use their personal impact in order to represent the collective task and goals as meaningful for an individual (Bogler et al., 2013, p. 374; Jansen, 2015; Lee & Lee, 2015). Those changes that are directed with references to the team’s motivation and efforts are more effective than those ones based only on the people’s orientation to the strategic goals. Employees need to be stimulated to accept and develop the change in the organization through means that are important to them. While selecting this path, an effective leader should be responsive in relation to the stakeholders’ expectations (Jansen, 2015, p. 112). These proposed strategies are based on the leadership theory and researchers’ discussions of the academic leaders’ successes in the sphere of higher education. Possible obstacles are also taken into account to formulate the working recommendations referring to the collected evidence.


Economic, social, and political changes also influence the sphere of the higher education in the United States. Leaders in colleges and universities choose adequate programs to implement and specific changes to promote in order to adapt to the observed tendencies and to increase the profitability of organizations and their competitive advantage. Changes that can be implemented by administrators in academic settings include institutional, financial, and cultural ones. The approach to improving the situation in an organization with the focus on leading the change is discussed as effective in both theory and practice related to the higher education. The problem is in the fact that the appropriate management of the required change is possible only with the focus on the strong leadership. According to the leadership theory, only several leadership styles can be discussed in terms of their application to the situation of managing the change. The main focus is on the transformational leadership and on the relationship-oriented practices.

Transformational leadership is viewed by researchers and educators as the key to leading the change in the organization successfully. This style is effective in order to complete all the stages of the change model, including the unfreezing, change, and refreezing stages. Researchers are also inclined to add that the current trends in the sphere of the higher education require more innovative approaches to managing the change and building beneficial interactions of administrators and employees. Future actions in the sphere can involve the focus on new approaches to communicating the necessity of change in the organization, and the leader will be expected to combine the features of the transformational and instructional leadership in order to achieve the higher results.

Academic leaders also need to pay attention to certain recommendations that include the reference to needs assessments, to working practical change models, and to monitoring the performance indicators in order to reach the goal and improve the performance of employees with the focus on the implemented change. Much attention should be paid to the administrator as an inspiring, motivating, and influential leader who not only addresses the stakeholders’ needs in colleges and universities but also prepares employees and students for the change adoption and lead them through the complex and challenging change process.


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