A new approach for leaders to deliver successful strategic change

Dr. Elsbeth Johnson, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, shares her ground-breaking research on how leaders and managers can achieve successful strategic change in their organizations. 

Big, strategic change efforts often fail. Virtually all of them are harder than they need to be. Why is this and what can leaders do to make change stick? Dr. Elsbeth Johnson, based on a decade of research, calls on leaders to step up and step back.  

In this episode of the LeaderLab, Elsbeth sheds new light on the role leaders play in delivering long-term strategic change to their organization. Based on the findings in her new book, Step Up, Step Back: How to Really Drive Strategic Change in Your Organization, Elsbeth highlights key aspects of her new approach:  

  • As the book title suggests, leaders must learn to step up in the early stages of an organizational change, and then step back in its later stages. This combination sets up the managers and teams for success when delivering the change.  
  • Strategic change isn’t a Hollywood film. It’s not fast, dramatic or easy. Instead, it’s about doing the “non-glam” work of putting in place the right elements to set managers and teams up for success.  
  • A leader’s charisma is not enough to sustain long-term change. While charisma can play an important role – particularly at the start of a change program, too much of it for too long can breed dependency in managers and teams that will inhibit true transformations.   
  • In the context of Covid-19, leaders may need to focus more on operations and execution in the near term. But, they also need to do more to provide clarity and to align their teams around their vision and priorities.  

We recommend you pick up Elsbeth’s book, Step Up, Step Back: How to Really Drive Strategic Change in Your Organization. Find it here.

Meet Dr. Elsbeth Johnson 

Dr. Elsbeth Johnson is an expert in leadership, strategy and change. She is a former equity analyst and London Business School Professor who now splits her time as a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and her advisory work through her consultancy,  SystemShift. Elsbeth spent a decade researching how to deliver strategic organizational change in practice. Based on asking managers what they need from leaders, rather than asking leaders what they did to support change, Elsbeth developed her Step Up, Step Back approach that challenges more traditional beliefs about how to lead change, and about leadership, too.  


TILTCO is a boutique consulting company that helps leaders define and execute their strategies in order to achieve extraordinary business and personal results. Founded by Tineke Keesmaat, she brings her 20 years of leadership consulting experience rooted at McKinsey & Company and Accenture to supports today’s leaders achieve exceptional results.