Embracing Change with Passion: A Journey into Change Leadership and Impact with Alessandra Wulf
Passion and impact are what describes best Alessandra Wulf, a change leader who shares her unique perspective on change management. In this invigorating interview, Alessandra delves into her views on change management, her ways to keep experiencing change herself to better understand the people she works with, and the MSc in Change Leadership, which contributed to her professional growth and ability to drive impactful change within organisations.
Can you give us your own definition of change management?
Alessandra Wulf: To me, Change Management and Leadership is the practice of supporting people through organisational change. It’s a field of leadership that brings together Business, Social Sciences, and Design to ensure people are enabled to be at their best through periods of transition and uncertainty.
Can you tell us more about your current work experience at Insights and the reasons for joining the MSc in Change Leadership?
AW: At the time of joining the program, I was leading a number of change programs in Australia in a highly regulated market. After years working across the major private sectors, I was looking for more flavour in the practice of Change. It was beginning to feel that many change programs were made from the same stencils. So I was looking for a community to join and a learning experience that would reinvigorate my passion in this space.
The MSc in Change Leadership clearly helped me find ‘my people’; a diverse group of leaders from across the globe with a common interest – finding ways to improve the effectiveness of change efforts across their organisations and clients.
AW: One of the perks of the program is that it opens up your perspective, networks, and global connections. One opportunity led to another, and a quick migration from Australia to Scotland later, I found myself at a very unique organisation, Insights! Insights delivers Awareness experiences all across the globe, building aware individuals who, through that, can make a positive difference in everything they do. When we think about the scalability of our impact as Change professionals, what better way to make a difference than through the influence of an organisation that has such a strong purpose to create a positive global impact. At Insights, I can bring together my own interest in personal transformation with my professional interest in organisational transformation. The added benefit is that I am able to work in an environment that draws upon learnings from my dissertation.
Your program dissertation subject was ‘How can the founders of social purpose-led organisations sustain their purpose through rapid growth’. Why did you choose to address this topic, and how can change management help address this question?
AW: I’ve always been driven by purpose; a need to justify life with a return to the community, the environment. In the world of business, there are so many organisations creating harm; to people and our planet. When you contract as a Change Practitioner, you see it a lot. But then there is a growing field of purpose-led organisations, laser-focused on solving humanitarian and environmental issues. My motive on this topic was clear - I want more of these organisations to succeed, and I want to play a part in that positive shift as a change practitioner.
When I started researching the success rates of these purpose-led organisations, I was saddened. So much passion, investment, and sacrifice lost in a system that isn’t always geared to supporting these organisations. It looked like the setup and the first phase of organisational development was the easy part. The struggle came when the founders wanted to grow. Most said that they found it difficult to grow whilst staying true to their purpose.
For instance, accepting investment funding from sources who also backed organisations that create harm to the communities/environments they were trying to rebuild. I wanted to understand why some founders were able to successfully navigate this tension and challenge, and why some failed in the pursuit. There was no change model for these business challenges. But what emerged in my dissertation was a pattern in the practices, beliefs, and behaviours within the founders who succeeded in navigating this difficult path. And I take these learnings with me in my roles so I can maintain some foresight to manoeuvre them with others.
What are the essential skills required to successfully drive change within an organization, and how has the MSc in Change Leadership contributed to strengthening these skills?
AW: It really depends on the organisation, the nature of the challenge, and the environment. However, my perspective is that it helps if a change leader can be dynamic, immersed, and humble. Very rarely will people buy in and accept being led into a change with a fixed, emotionally removed, or grandiose leader. People need someone they trust, who stands shoulder to shoulder with them in the battleground of confrontation.
Additionally, change leaders should maintain a curiosity about the world and the way things are done. Like many other fields of work, we are taught models that were created in a different time and place, and we still use many of them, though times have changed.
I saw the MSc in Change Leadership program like a gymnasium for Change; we were stretched, inspired, challenged, re-educated and some days we even fell flat on our faces going through those learning experiences. But in that experience, the Directors created a brilliant community of comrades who had one another’s back. This, above all, was the largest benefit for me. Skills are important, yes, but community even more so, because they will continue the learning journey and the refinement of skills in the years to come.
Do you have any hobbies outside of work that help you become a better change leader?
AW: I’ve observed a lot of change practitioners and leaders in front of an audience of scared employees, speaking about the path to change they are calmly going to take others on. But they, themselves, are untouched by the change and don’t remember what it’s like to be uncomfortable, scared, uncertain, confused, suspicious and out of control. So, I like to think that by keeping myself in a reasonably uncomfortable space in my hobbies, I’ll be regularly reminded what change is like for those I’m working with day to day.
To that end, I like to try new things that scare me, like aerial silks or the time I did an extreme fire-fighting course in Texas. I’m also a Master trained Yoga and Meditation teacher and try to practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga as much as I can; yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).I gain a lot of inspiration to lead and cope with the field of Change on the (yoga) mat. This is where I do my best reflective work and coach myself on how I, too, perceive change. In some ways, the (yoga) mat is, to me, what a supervisor is to a clinical psychologist.
Anything else you would like to share?
AW: Something I keep wondering is why do we teach people that change, on the whole, is a bad thing? Why do we place doubt before people have even had the opportunity to make a decision themselves? This is certainly a perception I’d love to shift in my career in Change. Let’s learn to enjoy, and not judge. Even dark transition periods can be joyful, in their own way, not because we expect light at the end of the journey, but because we are moving, and it’s the movement that makes us, not where we arrive. Let’s face it, we don’t always arrive at where we thought we would!
If you wish to become part of a powerful network of change agents, rejuvenate your practice of change, and make a positive impact on people, on organisations, and ultimately on society, join the MSc in Change Leadership run by HEC Paris and Oxford Said Business School.