Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Management (DMgt)

First Advisor

Larry M. Starr

Second Advisor

Matt Minahan

Third Advisor

Richard Dool


We are at the cusp of what Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, called the “age of acceleration,” where globalization, technology, and financial markets instill a need for newer, better, faster products and services (Friedman, 2016: 187). As old ways of operating become outmoded and exponential growth is expected, businesses struggle to keep pace. Many face the same imperative: adapt or die. They must make sweeping, radical organizational change led by prepared, capable leaders who are empowered to drive this transformation. Research on leading radical change initiatives has focused on systems, models, and methodology—the practical processes of taking a business from one means of production or distribution to another. However, researchers have neglected to study the personal impact that leading radical change has on leaders. Leaders who choose to take on the role of radical transformational change agent are poorly understood and supported; neither organizations nor change agents are fully aware of their responsibilities, realities, and risks. To examine the lived experiences of people who have led cutting-edge organizational changes, I investigated the factors that trigger a “go” moment in leaders who initiate radical organizational change, the risks change agents perceive when entering an engagement, and the resulting personal and professional impacts. Qualitative analysis of the results of targeted surveys and follow-up interviews with people who had led radical change, along with close readings of the existing literature, revealed that change agents act for largely altruistic reasons. They are driven to help organizations achieve greater success by factors including personal history and situational awareness, but they do so with only partial understanding of the great personal and professional risks involved. Change agents sacrifice job security and reputational standing by choosing to fight the status quo and absorb employee pushback. They also experience financial uncertainty—whether they succeed or not, they are soon out of a job—and they are left to deal with personal relationship challenges stemming from carrying home the stress of their work. By understanding what change agents experience before, during, and after radical change, people deciding whether to lead change can better understand what they are getting into, and organizations can better support change leaders to deliver results.


A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Management in Strategic Leadership.