Leading change from the middle: Challenges for middle managers as internal change agents

Jean E. Neumann, Kim Turnbull James, Russ Vince

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding

1 Citation (SciVal)


This study focuses on complex circumstances and defining characteristics of leading change as a middle manager. People in such roles are increasingly expected to lead organizational change as a normal part of their job. The paper draws on institutional theory and systems psychodynamic theory. The authors intend the resulting conceptual framework to increase understanding about the emotional and institutional challenges for middle managers as internal agents for change. Data gathered from 25 UK managers (representing 15 organizations) contribute substantially to this exploratory study. Three overarching issues emerged from an analysis of the data: (1) middle managers feel uncertain while having to show certainty about change; (2) leading change from the middle is prone to ambivalent authorization; and, (3) middle managers are expected to implement change without knowing how to intervene in the complex practical, emotional and political dynamics interwoven with attempts to lead change. The authors summarize two contributions to knowledge. Firstly, an understanding of collective emotions at work is shown to be important to middle managers’ potential effectiveness as internal change agents. Secondly, this pilot research begins a process of generating insights about some specific emotional and political dynamics that constrain and enable middle managers’ purposive action on leading change. From this apparent complexity, the authors derive questions about how both external and internal consultants prepare themselves and their clients to support managers in leading from the middle.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
EditorsGuclu Atinc
PublisherAcademy of Management
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012
Event72nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2012 - Boston, USA United States
Duration: 7 Aug 201210 Aug 2012


Conference72nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2012
Country/TerritoryUSA United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Industrial relations
  • Management Information Systems


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