Conceptual Approaches to Leadership and Change Management

Exploring the role of adaptable leadership due to the global pandemic and critically analyzing the strategic importance of diverse leadership.

Princess Akari
15 min readAug 22, 2022

Mastering the complications and difficulties of leadership, especially during a pandemic can be a huge problem. There are several models, tools, and techniques that revolve around leadership and leadership styles. Using one theory does not give a complete view (Berger, 2014). These models and techniques can cause uncertainty in many cases, a good model serves diverse purposes (Lewin, 1951, p.169). The purpose of this report is to give a background to the approaches of leadership and change management and explore the role of adaptable leadership and independent perspectives concerning leaders managing change due to the global pandemic. This report will also critically analyze the strategic importance of diverse leadership in understanding approaches used by leaders and their impact on stakeholders.

The COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020 (World Health Organization, 2020), and since the pandemic was announced it has put unusual pressure on employees, managers, leaders, and corporations at large, affecting all the cadres of the labor force. At the announcement of COVID-19, there was distress, agitation, and panic across the world, which affected every business sector and organization as well. The wide-reaching nature of the pandemic and the uncertainty connected to it made it very difficult for leaders and managers to respond adequately because a lot of the current leaders in the corporate world today have not experienced an emergency disaster like COVID-19 (D’Auria and Smet, 2020). The COVID-19 wave was described as a “landscape-scale” outbreak, this term as explained by (Howitt and Leonard, 2007) means an unforeseen incident of a large spectrum coupled with massive speed, the consequences are; extraordinary levels of anxiety that causes confusion and uncertainty.

The first response from a leader during an outbreak such as COVID-19 is to acknowledge and accept that a crisis is ongoing (Howard and Leonard, 2009), This will help the leader prepare themselves better, to control the perspectives that make them underrate the likelihood of an outbreak and its effects (Alon and Omer, 1994). Immediately a leader acknowledges that there is an outbreak, they can then start planning responses. A lot of outbreaks are unplanned, sudden, and unexpected, so productive responses are usually spontaneous and impromptu (Howard and Leonard, 2009). These responses can range from introducing a remote working style or modifying communication patterns by using collaborative tools for work, which is useful even after the outbreak is over.

Leaders need the right mentality that will help them predict what is ahead, not a specified plan of action or strategy when dealing with outbreaks or crises (D’Auria and Smet, 2020).

Report Organization

There are five sections of this report; starting from the introductory section where there will be some background information about the global pandemic and a summary of how leaders should react, then the second section which discusses the conceptual approaches of leadership and change management, the next section is to explore the role of adaptable leadership due to the global pandemic. Then the fourth section critically analyzes the strategic importance of diverse leadership and its impact on stakeholders, the last section is the conclusion, which summarizes what has been discussed in the first four sections and then further recommendations.

The purpose of this report is as follows;

  • Give an introductory background to the conceptual approaches of leadership and change management.
  • Explore the role of adaptable leadership and independent perspectives concerning leaders managing change due to the global pandemic.
  • Critically analyzing the strategic importance of diverse leadership in understanding approaches used by leaders and the impact on stakeholders.


Conceptual Approaches to Leadership

The conceptual approaches to leadership have been described and defined by various people in several ways (Aibieyi, 2014). As stated by Herold Koontz (1988), leadership can be defined as “the art of influencing people so that they strive willingly and enthusiastically towards the accomplishment of group goals”.

There are many conceptual approaches to leadership but we will be discussing three of these approaches;

  • Trait Approach
  • Behavioral approach
  • Contingency approach

The Trait or psychological approach refers to the belief that leaders are not made, they are born with the inherent ability to lead and they possess certain traits which separate them from others (Aibieyi, 2014). Trait theories conclude that people naturally have some behaviors and characters that make them a great match for leadership roles. This theory recognizes a specific character relating to a leader, traits like tenacity, boldness, and confidence are said to be connected to leaders (Mango, 2018). There are several persons who have these traits or characteristics that are linked with leadership and are still not leaders and the same thing goes for the various persons who do not have these traits but are leaders (Grant et al., 2011, p. 528–550).

Behavioral approaches are theories that are hinged on the fact that a leader is built, raised, made, and not born or inherits traits as implied by the trait approach. This approach refers to the activities and actions of the leaders and not just the mindset. With this theory, anyone can master the traits of a great leader through studying, learning/upskilling, and close monitoring (Amanchukwu et al., 2015).

The Contingency approach focuses on specific factors that are associated with the conditions that can affect the specific kind of leadership that should be used in a specific situation. The theory states that there is no such thigh as one leadership style that fits every circumstance it should always change based on the situation (Khan et al., 2016, p. 1–7).

Hodgson and White (2003), propose that successful leadership is about having an optimal balance between what is required, the conditions the behaviors, and not just the traits of the leader alone. Great leaders should be able to evaluate the needs of their subordinates, assess the conditions, and then adapt their actions appropriately (Khan et al., 2016, p. 1–7).

Conceptual Approaches to Change Management

Change management has developed over the years, with adequate models and techniques that assist with the effect that comes with change within an organization (Teczke, 2017). Change is said to be the only thing constant in life and change management takes a lot of work, time, and strength, this is the reason for organized models for change management. According to Belyh (2019), “change management involves the application of structures methods and a pre-planned framework to steer the business from its current state to the desired state”. One of the major advantages of change management is that it enables an organization properly manage its financial budget and allocated timeline. There are several models for change management but just one will be included in this report; Lewin’s change management model.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

This model of change was developed by Lewin (1951), and the model is still important and effective today. It is a three-step activity that involves the following;

  • Unfreezing
  • Change
  • Refreezing

Unfreezing is the very first stage, and it requires making everyone ready for the change. There must always be a reason for the change and this should be communicated, describing why the current way needs an upgrade and how it affects the success of the company.

Change is the second stage and this stage is where the actual switch and adjustment happen. This particular stage may delay because people take time when accepting new changes. During the change stage, encouragement and motivation are required to ensure everyone is supported properly.

Refreeze is the last and final stage and it is assumed that the change has already taken place. At this stage, balance returns to the organization and they go back to their usual and typical way.


As explained earlier in the introduction section, when faced with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, a leader’s response should be adaptive to the situation and not something general (Anderson, 2018). Adaptive leadership can be defined as “task-performance-directed behaviors individuals enact in response to or anticipation of changes relevant to job-related tasks” (Jundt et al., 2015, p. 54–55). The global pandemic caused several changes to organizational structures and also caused some changes to the type of work done within organizations (Foss and Seetharaman, 2020). With the unexpected emergence of the outbreak, leaders and managers are expected to display adaptive leadership because work needs have changed. (Allworth and Hesketh, 1999; Griffin et al., 2007; Jundt et al., 2015). Adaptiveness is seen as a critical process that happens at the beginning stages, when faced with conditions that need a quick organizational change, like the situation with the COVID-19 outbreak (Strauss et al, 2015).

Within an organization, adaptive leadership is demonstrated whenever a person is required to change their capabilities and skills, and take on new ones to sustain performance level or minimize any loss when there is a change (Chan, 2000, p.2). Additionally, these adaptive leadership skills can be intentional and expected or responsive, depending on the case but it exhibits displays of reactive responses as well as preparatory responses (Jundt et al., 2015).

Managers who demonstrate adaptive leadership are inclined to do the following;

  • They properly manage the crisis, tension, and unrest by keeping their composure throughout times of uncertainty, while they immediately start evaluating solutions on how to understand and manage the situation.
  • They become innovative by engaging, utilizing, and implementing new strategies and plans.
  • They are always searching for knowledge that improves their approach to work.
  • They display mutual openness and cooperation by accepting the ideas and perspectives of others within the team

(Pulakos et al., 2000; Charbonnier-Voirin et al., 2010).

When a manager or leader has the qualities stated above, they decrease the loss of resources that are connected to the COVID-19 outbreak, thus that makes these traits an impactful and productive type of leadership for a global pandemic. Hence, leaders who perform during such a crisis commit a lot of time and energy to improve not only themselves but their co-workers and the entire organization in general.


Brief background of Diversity and Diverse Leadership

Diversity can be defined as “acknowledging, understanding, accepting, and valuing differences among people with respect to age, class, race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, etc.’ (Farnsworth, et al., 2020). Diversity is one of the major components for easy operations within an organization, it is a crucial occurrence in our modern world and refers to the several differences between employees of a company. This form of difference includes gender, age, ethnicity, race, educational background, behaviors, etc. (Farnsworth, et al. 2020). In recent years, this diversity incorporation has impacted some changes within those organizations, subsequently, diverse leadership and diversity are the main areas for research (Krietz, 2008). Having a good understanding of diversity in the workplace and diverse leadership is key, especially in situations where the workforce is made up of individuals from different cultural backgrounds, a lot of leaders have difficulties managing these individuals with different interests, and backgrounds (Farnsworth, et al. 2020).

Due to the rise in demand for research-based organizations, it has become the core duty of leaders as well as employees to improve learning and development within their organizations (Gentry, et al., 2014). Thriving leaders should be aware of leadership expectations and execution plans (Kulik, 2014). In this modern world, many organizations are very diverse, to fully grasp the functional or operational levels of an organization the leaders need to give some attention to the employees, their work style, and how their background affects their work (Bastien, 1992). As stated above, organizations are diverse in gender, age, ethnicity, race, educational background, behaviors, etc, it is, therefore, beneficial to ensure that these diverse characteristics are turned into a useful results for the organizations as well as the workforce (Farnsworth, et al., 2020). Organizations should seek new methods of becoming inclusive because having a diverse workforce has the likelihood of increasing work efficiency which can give the organization a competitive edge.

The relationship between the employees and the organization becomes stronger when they feel included in that particular organization (Downey, et al., 2015). In recent times, it has become important to accept that the world is multicultural, employees seek places that are known for their inclusiveness when they are trying to settle for a new job because inclusivity is the bedrock that enables collaboration within teams.

Advantages of Diverse Leadership

The advantages of diverse leadership are as follows;

  • Improves efficiency among the employees
  • Improves individuality and inventiveness
  • Increases innovation and creativity when approaching problems
  • Increases the chances of getting the attention of a talented workforce and keeping them
  • Strengthens team communications
  • Grows market share
  • Increases the number of diverse consumers

(Kreitz, 2008).

Plans and policies relating to diverse leadership are created to provide a cordial environment for the employee and the leaders within the organization, especially for employees who are underrepresented and have had limited access to those kinds of jobs (Kulik, 2014).

Challenges of Diverse Leadership

Managing diversity in any organization is a challenging role and many leaders encounter difficulties whenever they are required to participate in that type of leadership (Chuang, 2013).

These are some of the challenges they encounter;

  • The challenges with properly managing their time and making decisions.
  • The challenges of hastening work to be done.
  • The challenges of seeking ways to motivate other employees.
  • The challenges of guiding and instructing other employees
  • The overall challenge of having the responsibility to lead a team.

To adjust to the evolving changes of the modern world, diverse leaders should be able to ensure full adaptations to changes where necessary. The listed challenges are some of the difficulties experienced by leaders in diverse management (Chuang, 2013).


This report was able to successfully discuss four distinctive parts of leadership; how leaders should react to a global crisis, leadership and change management approaches, adaptive leadership due to a global crisis (using COVID-19 as a source of reference), and lastly, diverse leadership — its importance and impact. A general background was discussed, involving the negative effect of the global pandemic, how it caused anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace, and how leaders are expected to stay calm during these kinds of crisis times so that they can carefully plan out strategies and operational functions. They also need to generate innovative ideas on how the team can perform better using collaborative tools and techniques.

There was a review of the major leadership approaches — trait, behavioral, and contingency, and the advantages and limitations of said approaches were discussed as well. The report also shows how change management approaches enable an organization to manage its resources — financial budget and timeline. In that same section, there was an understanding of Lewin’s change management model, the 3 stages that help to understand the process of change within an organization (unfreezing, change, refreezing), understanding each step, and the activities that should accompany them to ensure a successful change in that organization.

The role of adaptable leadership due to the global pandemic was also discussed, it explained and described the state of the world and the role of leaders during the crisis, how these leaders should behave, and the kind of skills they should possess to be able to survive the crisis and still maintain productivity within the organization. Also discovered was that adaptive leaders will be more dependable and able to lead during a period of crisis because they are more willing to use their efforts, time, and skills to adapt quickly thus providing better productivity and minimizing loss for the organization.

We also discussed the critical analysis of the strategic importance of diverse leadership and its impact on stakeholders; the advantages and disadvantages of diverse leadership, how leaders manage diversity, and the difficulties they encounter while managing diversity. As a result of changes in our modern world and with the emergence of major technology tools and techniques, successful organizations prefer managers and leaders who can take charge, control, and oversee a diverse labor force. Ultimately, this report shows that leaders are required to regularly upgrade their capabilities and knowledge to improve their performance and stay relevant in any organization.


This report also has informed further recommendations and research;

In terms of adaptive leadership, the benefits have been noted but further research needs to be done to evaluate how these adaptive leadership styles affect employee performance. Also, further research needs to be done on the financial compensation and empathy towards employees from the leaders of their organization during a pandemic and also look into how flexible working hours can affect employee performance.

An additional recommendation for adaptive leadership will be to analyze other ways that an adaptive leader’s productivity can be affected, that is, should this be based on inherent or learned leadership traits.

For diverse leadership, there needs to be ongoing and steady research on the various competencies of leaders globally. This will enable future researchers to have sufficient knowledge about leaders and their operational strategies.


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