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A Theoretical Analysis of Managerial Growth in the Context of Organizational Change

Aušra Kolbergytė
1 and
Aistė Dromantaitė
Lifelong Learning Laboratory, Mykolas Romeris University, 08303 Vilnius, Lithuania
Management and Politic Science Institute, Mykolas Romeris University, 08303 Vilnius, Lithuania
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(8), 4523;
Submission received: 23 February 2022 / Revised: 1 April 2022 / Accepted: 6 April 2022 / Published: 11 April 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Organization through a Prism of Human Capital)


In analyzing the theoretical literature on managerial growth in the context of organizational change, an absence of research has been observed, especially that which comprehensively analyzes growth prospects and opportunities at the micro (individual), meso (group), and macro (organizational) levels, which considers organizational, social, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Therefore, one of the outstanding problems of this research was to select the relevant scientific literature to synthesize the theory and create a conceptual theoretical model based on it. The aim of this paper is to explore the context and preconditions for managerial growth during an organizational change at different levels and aspects of organizations. Therefore, six theoretical approaches from the fields of management, psychology, and education were chosen (Hiatt, Kotter, Kübler-Ross, Goleman, Mezirow, and Marcia). Conclusions provide insights into the context, aims, and directions of managerial growth within organizational change. First, the context of organizational change is understood as an educational environment that creates incentives for managerial growth at the macro, meso, and micro levels and encompasses the development of personal and professional skills and the conscious evolution of inner perceptions related to work. Second, managerial growth in the context of organizational change is targeted toward three objectives at the organizational, group, and individual levels: productivity, connection, and self-realization. Third, managerial growth in the context of organizational change is directed toward three dimensions: (1) the strategic-operational dimension overlaps with the development of leadership skills to ensure successful change implementation in the organization; (2) the social-emotional dimension overlaps with the development of psychosocial skills, enabling coping with challenges through relationships and an emotionally supportive workplace environment; and (3) the perceptual-spiritual dimension overlaps with the development of personal maturity and professional motivation, disclosing authentic performance during organizational change. These findings become a framework for further research but also provide practical guidelines for managers, HR specialists, and organizational leaders.

1. Introduction

Strategic innovation and process optimization form changes in various aspects of organizations [1]. Business management is experiencing growing demand in dealing with human or social sustainability for human resource preservation, support, and professional development. Companies need to take more care of organizational identity, dematerialization, and collaboration [2] which would allow employees to commit to innovative cultures [3]. Organizational transformations affect personal motivation, self-realization, and identity perception [4,5]; therefore, concentration on otherwise-oriented work values creates increased engagement in change [6] and maintains long-term loyalty.
Whenever there is a level or degree of organizational change, for some employees or employers, the change becomes a success or failure [1]. The COVID-19 pandemic was an example of an unexpected critical issue [6,7,8] that organizations faced, and which required them to transform usual work standards into digital environments ensuring health, safety, and business contingency. Such transitions affected the psychological resistance of some workers, as well as had other negative impacts on their social environments, professional relationships, and job satisfaction [8,9]. Such transformations were emotionally charged by inner experiences, which led to misunderstandings, conflicts, and damaged feelings including spiritual pain [9,10,11]. Tensions and insecurities were particularly exacerbated by the increased risk of redundancies [11,12,13], and this forced managers to be more sensitive to employee experiences and behavior [14]. However, the literature shows that when performing reorganizations, the problems stem from a lack of managers’ adequate knowledge, competence in the field of change management, and communication with employees, including the limited flexibility of the human factor [15]. One of the main challenges is bridging the gap between employees and management for workplace innovation [3], reconsidering practices, and acquiring new capabilities for the efficient facilitation of change [16,17].
There are studies on the development of executive leadership in change management [2,18,19,20], but notably, the phenomenon of middle management growth during organizational change is not addressed in the existing research. This research gap appears in terms of the professional development of middle managers, not as key decision makers [16], but rather as mediators coordinating strategic initiatives and navigating employee activities towards their transformations [17]. This study should help to understand the phenomenon of managerial growth in the context of organizational change by answering the following question: In the challenging transitional environment and within the directions of self-development, what is the role of middle managers in helping themselves and their subordinates to meet strategic organizational requirements, maintain healthy workplaces, and sustain individual wellbeing?
The novelty of this research is in its intention to explore organizational change as an incentive for personal and professional growth, emphasizing not only management but also psychological and educational contexts. The concept of “growth” in this paper is understood as a conscious, self-directed learning process that leads to the holistic and harmonious development of personality. Hiemstra and Brockett [21] stress the importance of personal responsibility for growth, outlining the optimal situation for self-directed learning which is most effective when the person, process, and context are in balance.
Summing up, the main research question is: What are the contexts, objectives, and directions for managerial growth in organizational change? A theory synthesis and a conceptual model were applied in this research. Six theoretical approaches from the fields of management, psychology, and education (Hiatt, Kotter, Kübler-Ross, Goleman, Mezirow, Marcia) were chosen for this analysis which tackles key variables associated with the focal phenomenon: change management, relationship navigation, and subjective coping experiences. This study complements the knowledge of sustainable change management theory, organizational psychology, and andragogy in general, proposing a holistic and integrated approach to adult self-development while providing a theoretical framework for personal and professional managerial growth in the challenging context of organizational change.
Its practical value is based on its potential use as a source of recommended material for middle managers, executives, or HR personnel, allowing them to understand the context of change from a holistic perspective and providing training on related topics for sustainable and growing workplace environments.
The paper is structured as follows: the second section presents the logic of the research methods and approach; the third section presents a theoretical analysis of managerial growth from the three-dimensional perspective of the organizational, group, and personal levels; the fourth section overlaps the discussion of the study results, including suggestions for future research, practical implications, and study limitations; and the last section reflects the conclusions of the study.

2. Research Methods

2.1. Research Approach

In this research, we used a qualitative research method—document analysis of the main theoretical approaches—to collect information and models and to qualitatively understand the main causes, motives, context, objectives, and directions for managerial growth in organizational change. We used this approach for three main reasons.
Firstly, this study is based on the attitude that each person is primarily an employee and only then a manager. A manager’s self-development discourse needs to be analyzed from a human perspective to maintain a balance between organizational change and personal growth in the perceptual-spiritual dimension. Studies [11,12,17] also emphasize that larger-scale structural changes inextricably affect all workers and can become traumatic experiences as they touch on aspects of physical and psychological security, relationship expression, and other emotional issues. Change takes a unique meaning for each person because “individuals are already aware of their current state: health, comfort level, financial position, relationships, satisfaction with work, family status and many other factors that comprise their personal situations” [16] (p. 46).
Second, this approach ensures that managerial growth is presented focusing on three aims of personal change: productivity, connection, and self-realization in the context of long-term organizational transformations. This approach is based on six theoretical frameworks (Hiatt, Kotter, Kübler-Ross, Goleman, Mezirow, and Marcia) and a three-dimensional perspective on managerial growth which is formed through the creation of an emotionally supportive work environment during organizational change and for achieving results at the individual, group, and organizational levels. Compared to other authors such as Pereira [22] or Salamzadeh et al. [23]—who chose to describe organizational development through only one dimension, spiritual intelligence, or considered only business performance as the main role of an organization—this approach allows organizational change management to be seen more widely and in a more complex and systematic way.
Finally, such a theory synthesis seeks conceptual integration between multiple theories or literature streams and offers a new, improved view of a concept or phenomenon by linking previously unrelated or incompatible works. The choice of such a study design is useful for understanding a phenomenon that lacks empirical data. After such an analysis, a theoretical model was designed to enable the understanding of relations between the strategic and operational, social and emotional, and perceptual and spiritual change dimensions, as well as to consider how these areas of development can overlap each other.

2.2. Literature and Main Model Selection Criteria

This research is based on the combination of theory synthesis and a conceptual model [24]. A theory synthesis study seeks to achieve conceptual integration across multiple theories or literature streams and offers a new or enhanced view of a concept or phenomenon by linking previously unconnected or incompatible pieces in a novel way. The choice of such a research design is beneficial for understanding phenomena that lack empirical data. A model design helps to build a theoretical framework that introduces new constructs and/or relationships between constructs, displaying arguments in the form of a figure [24,25].
When constructing conceptual research, Jaakkola [24] suggests starting from a focal phenomenon that is observable but not addressed in the existing research. The focal phenomenon in this paper is managerial growth in the context of organizational change. The main research question is: What are the contexts, objectives, and directions for managerial growth in organizational change?
The knowledge in this research is constructed using an integrated approach to the phenomenon of managerial growth as a form of self-education in organizational change that promotes a learning environment. According to Miller [26], the person is viewed as an integral being, reflected in their wholeness and connectedness with themselves and the environment. Holistic education is concerned with connections in human experience and overlaps an integrative approach to learning with a focus on developing a deep connection between the mind and body, linear thinking, intuitive ways of knowing the individual and community, and both the personal and transpersonal self. Therefore, to reveal the topic more broadly, we purposefully focused on a multilayered and holistic reflection of managerial growth at the organizational, group, and individual levels. These theoretical approaches cover three different disciplines: management, psychology, and andragogy.
The choice of theories is based on their fit with the focal phenomenon and their complementary value in conceptualizing it, so it is necessary for the researchers to answer the question: What role does each theory play [24] (p. 19)? A targeted selection of theoretical approaches was performed to form the conceptual ingredients of the empirical phenomenon.
The selected sources were based on the following initial reasoning (Table 1):
The ADKAR Model (Hiatt) and the Eight-Step Change Model (Kotter) describe the context of organizational change management and potentially reflect managerial growth at the organizational level.
The Five Stages of Grief Model (Kübler-Ross) helps to understand the psychosocial dynamics of professional relationships in the context of organizational change and the Emotional Intelligence at Work Theory (Goleman) provides insights into personal development to improve interpersonal relationships at work; therefore, this might reflect managerial growth at the group level.
Transformational Learning Theory (Mezirow) helps to understand the context of organizational change in an educational environment and the Identity Status Model (Marcia) can touch on the dynamics of professional identity formation in the context of organizational change. In other words, both theoretical approaches are related to subjective experiences and can reveal managerial growth at the individual level.
Summing up, the selected literature tackles the key variables associated with the focal phenomenon: change management, relationship navigation, and coping with internal subjective experiences during organizational change. This study accommodates multiple domain and method theories [24] (p. 20), using both deductive and inductive reasoning to explain the relationships of the concept elements to the research phenomenon.
Analysis. Although there are similarities between theory synthesis and literature review, the main distinction is that literature review remains within the existing conceptual or theoretical boundaries, hence “describing extant knowledge rather than looking beyond it” [24] (p. 21), [23]. The key steps in this conceptual argumentation of the studied phenomenon are:
  • Getting acquainted with the essential aspects of the chosen theory.
  • Relating the context of the chosen theory with the context of the research problem: forming preliminary concepts for the construction of the assumptions of managerial growth directions.
  • Reviewing and adjusting the accuracy of the formed concepts. The process of back-and-forth analysis is performed by returning to the text of the selected theories and combining individual concepts. The aim is to complete the conceptual picture of the growth of managers in the context of organizational change.
  • Depicting the generalized concepts in the form of a figure. The obtained data are illustrated in a conceptual map using the “MindMaster” software. A clear structure contributes to conceptual clarity by making the hierarchy of concepts and their elements intuitively available to the reader [24] (p. 21).
  • Exposing the proposed summarized arguments derived from the study to a novel, integrative narrative, with a reflective analysis combining the scientific discussion with other authors and their research.
Briefly, a combination of deductive and inductive approaches is applied for analysis and interpretation, synthesizing phenomenon components into the conceptual framework. This represents a holistic preconditioned context for managerial growth directions, but the scope of this study does not aim to overlap the detailed description of developmental methods and learning techniques to achieve its results.

3. Literature Review

3.1. The Organizational Level: Managerial Growth in the Strategic-Operational Dimension

Managerial growth at the organizational level is focused on the implementation of strategic goals, process control, and personnel administration. Managerial growth in the strategic-operational dimension seeks to answer the question of how to implement organizational strategy smoothly and productively.
To understand the potential challenges that managers face during organizational transformations, it is important to discuss change management processes step-by-step. Hiatt [16] explored the peculiarities of change management in organizations and communities and developed the ADKAR model from five elements: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. Though ADKAR defines change more from an employee perspective, Kotter’s [27] Eight-Step Change Model encompasses a wider range of factors from an organizational perspective. The elements of urgency, coalition, strategy, communication, empowerment, short-term wins, gains consolidation for broader change, and cultural change draw a fairly smooth parallel with the content of ADKAR, which sets guidelines for managers who want to grow successfully during organizational transformations.
The adoption of new initiatives takes place only after a clear understanding of the need for change and why it is urgent [16,27]. It is important to understand that resistance to change is a natural phenomenon. Stability and daily routine provide a sense of physical and psychological comfort, so people do not like change; by nature, they oppose it, desiring to stay within the old and normal order, especially if much has been invested in it [4,10,16,27]. Managers’ ability to highlight the essence of urgency logically and comprehensibly might shift employees’ perceptions as they “want to hear how the change may impact them personally (what’s in it for me) from the direct supervisor” [6]. Successful implementation of this step requires the development of the communicative and social skills of managers by creating a cooperative work environment for change.
Therefore, managers can persuade their subordinates to accept planned changes only when they become aware of the change’s significance and contribute to the generation of creative ideas during this process. Managers must also build their awareness of the need to change [6] because it is impossible to lead others somewhere they do not believe in themselves [28]. To refine the vision of change, Kotter [27] recommends forming a leading coalition that defines a strategy plan, makes significant decisions, and addresses emerging issues. Challenges arise when change is driven by external forces, such as compliance with a new law, which are not open to debate [16]. The task of managerial growth is to find ways to lead and collaborate while maintaining a balance between power and responsibilities. Change management, according to Maxwell [28], is the ability to change leadership style in a way that has a positive impact on an organization and promotes personal development.
Reforms require a strong leader [27] who is able to smoothly communicate the planned vision, mobilize and coordinate the team, and motivate employees for change. Leadership, unlike management, is dynamic [28], and takes in territory that might be completely unknown [27]. Initiating change is constantly confronted with uncertain, unexpected situations, so the ability to maneuver flexibility in solving problems and making unusual decisions becomes a determining factor in success. However, not every manager is a leader: management makes a system work, but leadership builds systems or transforms old ones [27]. Difficulties arise when the responsibility for making timely and substantive decisions rests with a senior manager who does not have excellent leadership skills. According to Hiatt [16], mid-level managers often have the most to lose in organizational change because they do not make strategic decisions, nor do they perform direct day-to-day operational tasks. Kotter [27] (p. 3) argues that “paralyzed senior management often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders”, and resistance to change at the managerial level may be related to fear of losing power, responsibility, or resources. One of the self-development tasks of managers, especially middle-line managers, is to balance the application of leadership and management skills; to find ways to combine the relationships of power and responsibilities in a hierarchical organizational system during change.
A strong coalition should communicate a vision of change to employees smoothly and comprehensibly [27]. Maintaining constant communication with all organizational levels helps to stabilize the implementation of change and ensure transparency throughout the process to avoid employee resistance or behind-the-scenes misinformation. It is important to set out clear expectations or shortcomings, even if they are not positive [28]. Otherwise, supervisors might spend more time correcting misinformation than they would have spent communicating the right information in the first place [16]. The growth of middle managers starts by taking responsibility for listening to subordinates’ attitudes to change by becoming conductors of emotions [18] to reduce the intensity of resistance.
According to Hiatt [16], having a clear awareness of the necessity of change is essential for employee motivation, supporting innovative ideas, and addressing responsibility. This reduces the resistance to change and mobilizes efforts to take an interest in new initiatives. Hence, one is consciously prepared for the learning process by acquiring new knowledge so that planned change is successful and smooth. Once there is enough information about the vision of change and knowledge of how to implement it, everything moves into the field of practice [16]. Therefore, managers take on new responsibilities and tasks and develop coaching competence by giving time to train, mentor, and professionally advise subordinates during transformations.
After taking the first steps towards organizing change, it is critical to find ways to empower employees to perform actions and establish short-term victories in cases of success [27]. Large internal and external resources are used to implement change so it is instrumental to find motivational incentives to support and continue the change [16]. Seeing and communicating progress at the managerial level helps to maintain employees’ spirit in times of uncertainty and long-term challenges. According to Kotter [27], this requires managerial efforts to provide positive supportive feedback, accurately assess individual contribution, and acknowledge the obtained results. Reinforcement demonstrates that employees matter and their contributions are being noticed and valued [16]. This establishes new standards for working behaviors and internal satisfaction with future changes. If process tasks are properly accomplished, according to Kotter [27], consolidating gained benefits prepares the organization for greater changes that establish new work standards in the organizational culture.
Concluding, organizational change management is focused on the implementation of strategic goals, strong leadership, transparent communication, and employee motivation. Managerial growth seeks efficiency and productivity through the well-planned monitoring of activities in the strategic-operational dimension. Improving coaching skills, providing feedback, and recognizing employee input is essential. The role of the manager is to maintain a balance between innovations and the maintenance of established procedures. This requires creative solutions and flexibility in navigating various levels of the organizational hierarchy.

3.2. The Group Level: Managerial Growth in the Social-Emotional Dimension

Changes are not necessarily performed mechanically by implementing production machines, information technologies, or other innovations. Hiatt [16] emphasizes that “change is easy to be made in general, but not when people are involved: the most challenging problems dealt with people and not with things” (p. 2). Change is implemented by people, so considering employees only as work tools to achieve goals cannot maintain motivation and loyalty in the long term. Managerial growth in terms of the socio-emotional dimension addresses the question of how to achieve organizational change through a connection with others.
Significant organizational transformations inevitably affect employees’ inner experiences [11], sometimes even equating to spiritual pain [14]. Although each person responds differently to a change due to personal characteristics, life experiences, and social contexts [11], it makes sense for managers to grasp the theoretical assumptions of the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief Model [29].
Employees suffer various personal losses associated with anxiety and fear for the future. Uncertainty, joy, and resignation correlate throughout the process [13]. Losses due to a change may appear in an unfavorable recalculation of remuneration, work functions, structural units, teams, or the physical working environment. Tensions and insecurities are particularly exacerbated by the risk of redundancies [12,13] so the first reaction to change is a denial of objective reality caused by a state of shock [29]. Studies show that subordinates are shocked whenever new leadership practices are initiated, and anger is found to be the dominant negative emotion [11].
Anger as the second stage of grief [25] can be expressed by resistance, manifesting in open rage, gossip, cynicism, or frustration as change accelerates [13]. Negative outcomes can range from lowered commitment, lack of productivity, talent loss, or work alienation [12]. Subordinates can continue in silence by distancing themselves from the environment and avoiding contact, but a mature manager might empathize and not seek to correct this [28].
The negotiation stage moves to the mental level [29] as employees translate and internalize business change into personal change, assessing it as an opportunity or a threat [16]. The ability to facilitate dialogue with subordinates can lead to mutual learning, deep understanding and insight, collaborative consciousness, and action [30]. Empathetic counseling and facilitation provide opportunities and resources which enable motivation and progress to be maintained.
However, if the organizational change is focused on redundancy, employees’ internal experiences of reconciling with the current situation become emotionally and morally complex [10,11]. This turns to the depression stage, characterized by mournful moods [29], and relationships with managers might deteriorate [8]. The behavior of subordinates may reflect even greater resistance, irritability, emotional and social alienation, and a predisposition to psychotropic addictions. Managerial growth takes place by finding a sensitive approach to understanding employees through active listening and emotional support.
Significant internal work towards personal and professional growth arises in the reconciliation and acceptance phase [29]. To adapt to unfavorable circumstances, accept consequences, and feel good, employees refine priorities in terms of future professional inspirations and activities. The decisive choice is essential in the final stage of change implementation [4]. Managers must remain sensitive, patient, and attentive to the needs and behaviors of subordinates, as this can have a critical impact on employee rotation [11,12]. Facilitation skills and the ability to adapt become challenging for managerial growth. Cooperative dialogue can help to unite in a harmonious way, and the reconciliation of a situation gradually takes place [29]. Without mutual compromise regarding organizational strategy, employees can make a voluntary decision to seek new professional perspectives elsewhere [13].
Change interventions are more traumatic than often believed [4,17]. The previously-discussed theoretical aspects of the Kübler-Ross Grief Model can serve managers seeking to understand the emotional psychodynamics of a workplace during change. Therefore, managers have similar experiences to their subordinates in a human context. A common error is to assume that supervisors are by default effective coaches and change managers [16], so the application of Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence at Work Theory [31] can create emotionally supportive and productive work environments, but can also guide oneself in change survival.
Emotional intelligence at work is related to the ability to cope with oneself, agree with people, work in teams, and lead using the competencies of self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and relationship knowledge [31,32]. The development of personal and social skills is significant in professional managerial growth. A manager cannot lead others further than they have gone themselves [33], so to recognize the emotional dynamics of relationships in an organization, a manager must have an appropriate self-understanding and must identify the psychodynamic processes that arise internally [29,31]. It is important to be able to perceive emerging emotions and recognize their impact on oneself and the environment [17].
Self-awareness, according to Goleman [31], is the basis for self-knowledge and change: an objective awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses encourages the usage of existing creative potential, and self-education to correct destructive character traits. De Klerk [17] notes that “being-centeredness” is an untapped inner capacity in many aspects of change management. Greater self-knowledge of natural personality traits arrives in conditions of psychological stress, physical fatigue, and high work pace [4,34], so one should learn to manage one’s destructive emotional expressions through methods of self-regulation [31]. The ability to endure unpleasant behaviors, frustration, discomfort, and defeat without complaining and breaking is considered mature [28]. Self-control skills help to effectively manage disruptive emotions and impulses, along with the ability to be flexible and adapt to change [28,34].
Bjerlöv and Docherty [34] state that difficulties in understanding are rooted in ambiguity and efforts to make sense of what different parties in a work situation—colleagues, superiors, customers, and suppliers—mean, intend, value, and prioritize in their interactions with each other. Therefore, emotional intelligence creates pathways for flexible collaboration and harmonious interaction with the actors of change [15]. Adaptability is particularly significant when organizational change is driven by external influences and regulations [16,28]. According to Goleman [31], it is important for managers to develop a good political awareness of the group’s emotional currents to reconcile the different interests, needs, and resources of the parties, and navigate power relations in the process of change.
Creating an emotionally safe and collaborative work environment requires the development of managerial empathy skills which are an essential part of emotional intelligence [31]. It is important to find ways to inspire employees to cooperate, hear out their views, and resolve disagreements empathetically. Castillo et al. [8] show that negative organizational change affects relationships within different social environments (family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, and organizations). To achieve greater involvement, it is recommended to coordinate activities according to the needs of employees, taking an active interest in their concerns and trying to understand and feel what subordinates experience [31]. Employees want to hear about the challenges endured during the transition and how executive managers have handled them, so sharing personal stories or struggles from other departments or early trials with change creates closeness with subordinates [16]. In a trust-based professional relationship that shows due respect for human aspects, it is easier to overcome resistance to change and to motivate to action. Managers’ efforts to form a resilient relationship pay off with the support, commitment, and loyalty of subordinates [12].
In summary, it is crucial to build a resilient and collaborative relationship during organizational transitions. Managers must strive for personal change, develop emotional intelligence, and understand the psychodynamic processes of the group in a human context. Creating and maintaining an emotionally supportive work environment depends on the perception that successful adaptation to an unfamiliar environment, process, people, or organizational cultural environment requires time. Empathy skills are integral to the ability to remain sensitive.

3.3. The Individual Level: Managerial Growth in the Perceptual-Spiritual Dimension

To achieve a holistic picture of managerial growth, it is essential to remove the line between work and personal human experience. According to Hiatt [16] (p. 89), “when changes occur in an organization, a supervisor or manager is an employee first and manager second”. Managerial growth in the perceptual-spiritual dimension encourages seeking a closer connection with the inner world and asking how to realize one’s authentic potential in achieving organizational goals.
Progress requires a change in mind and actions, avoiding stagnant thinking, leaving one’s comfort zone, questioning traditional wisdom, and enjoying change [28]. Transformational learning theory [34] notes that adult learning is a lifelong process, but the deepest experiences and discoveries about oneself, one’s environment, and one’s life are formed at critical moments when significant changes in professional or personal life happen [34,35]. Managers have their own questions and potential issues with change that must be resolved before they can effectively sponsor change with employees [16]. There is no perfect plan for implementing ideas so it is valuable to reflect on failures and learn from them [28]. Therefore, organizational change creates preconditions for personal growth or even personality transformation.
Managers are constantly facing challenges and difficulties, but initial discomfort is necessary for growth [36]. Resistance to change in middle managers may be driven by uncertainty, fear of losing power, responsibility, or resources, overburdened workloads, or fear of not having the skills to manage change [16]. Growth involves change, which is the painful loss of a “previous position, a certain view of oneself and the world” [14]. Transformative learning occurs through mental conflict, requiring new meanings of perception [34,37,38]. This process begins with a “disorienting dilemma”—unexpected insights and extremely significant experiences that cause a personal crisis. The individual then critically reflects on their experiences and reconsiders the assumptions made about themselves and their life [34,39]. For example, one of the lessons for growth is the realization that it is impossible to please everyone and achieve a situation where everyone is happy [28]. This promotes a shift in consciousness, as beliefs or values previously considered to be true are no longer appropriate or contradict new experiences [34,40].
Managers may experience dilemmas in organizational change. Not all individuals can be motivated by financial incentives, especially in situations where a person perceives a conflict between personal values and the values of an organization [16]. Personal growth is achieved through the shift of semantic thought patterns: the construction of new inner meanings about the changing world results in the formation of a new “I” [37,39]. This takes place by changing the worldview system and future patterns of behavior [34] which have been uncritically internalized and taken for granted. Existential meanings are naturally driven by the questioning quality of life: Who are we and what are our relationships with the world [38]? An integral worldview is formed by changing associations, concepts, values, beliefs, cultural norms and expectations, feelings, conditioned reactions, habits, and assumptions that define the world [34]. The goal of transformative learning is to turn everything that is “unconscious” into “consciousness”, via the formation of an authentic personality [40] (p. 95). This includes the perception of new experiences and unpleasant feelings and overcoming the fear of constant change [34]. As a result, psychological evolution and personality growth take place.
The conscious process of self-knowledge, the crystallization of the value system, and responsibility for well-being call for the effective use of creative potential in the professional path. True personality transformation occurs when a person realizes who they are and acts according to their nature, revealing their identity and authenticity [40]. Transformative learning is understood as “inner work with the soul”, cognizing human nature, developing ways to perceive one’s identity, emotions, and feelings, and integrating subjective self-perception in various dimensions of human development [38,39]. This directs personality changes towards both psychosocial and spiritual development.
Self-realization is an expression of consolidated identity that promotes a sense of satisfaction in one’s professional activity and is characterized throughout life. According to Marcia [4], identity is expected to undergo cyclical re-formulation at least three times following adolescence and occurs more often as an individual is confronted with identity-challenging events.
Cognition of Marcia’s Identity Status Model [4] may broaden the view of adult psychological development during a crisis period. Though work integrates a person into society, it is crucial to maintain a sense of continuity with oneself [41]. Two axial criteria for identity formation are explained by Marcia [4]: crisis as an exploration of alternatives to identity and commitment to a particular field. Four personal identity statuses navigate the path from foreclosure and identity diffusion to moratorium and identity achievement [4]. Foreclosure reflects a vague human image and a lack of purposefulness of goals and values, but an elevated level of commitment to community or organization. A foreclosed adult’s purpose is to prevent change [4]. They are strongly influenced by childhood authorities on the choice of value attitudes and activities so self-knowledge and awareness-raising become just the start of personality transformation. Foreclosures, who “based their identities on identification with important childhood figures, would prefer to follow a strong leader without questioning his or her directions”, thus their external needs exceed personal ones [4,41] (p. 43).
Middle managers do not have absolute power to implement ideas at an organizational level. Kroger and Marcia [41] point out that foreclosures should not feel much discomfort in this, instead devotedly obeying rules and ideas of change. Because of emotional security, group belonging, and external acceptance, they do not question decisions from the point of view of justice or ethics that would force the reconsidering of one’s values and experience, and do not oppose authorities [41].
The state of identity diffusion is characterized by distraction, feelings of depression and emptiness, and lack of direction [4]. Signs of separation between self and environment may emerge through the concepts of ‘I’ and ‘they’ [41], internal barriers adapting to traditional culture, and new growth opportunities being gradually explored [4].
Deliberate creation or reconstruction of authentic identity is reflected in a state of moratorium when the current situation is unsatisfactory, provides anxiety, and motivates one to make conscious choices [4]. An identity crisis is understood as a review of old values and the exploration of new alternatives. In moratorium, several dilemmas and contradictions may arise due to authority-based identifications [41]. Results-oriented managers may experience professional impotence when a conflict of responsibility and power appears in collaboration with business partners. Exploration involves actively questioning the purpose of commitments in individual values, beliefs, and goals [4], so practicing reflection and introspection balances external environmental expectations and internal authenticity. Managers are not always inspired by honorable positions, degrees, recognition, gaining authority, money, or benefits—the best motivation is a desire to serve people [28]. Commitment to a particular value or social role is driven by taking responsibility for choices and moving toward change [4]. Otherwise, without seeing prospects for self-realization, managers may lose motivation and experience a professional crisis.
Marcia [4] (p. 29) mentions “disequilibrating circumstances” as a mode of identity crisis coming in the later stages of the adult life cycle and presenting within various life events including a job loss or promotion. Managers must pay a high price when initiating change, overcoming challenges and uncertainty to pave the way for others [28]. This may lead to moratoriums, who struggle and are “unlikely to be feeling very good about themselves” [41] (p. 41). In critical circumstances, there is an incentive to reflect on personal and professional values; managers might question if they want to continue working in an existing organization, position, or professional field.
Exploration of new alternatives does not necessarily mean considering new job offers. An identity crisis can lead to a review of motivation and improvement. If a manager prefers an existing work and is confident in their management role, unlocking professional potential is related to finding effective ways of solving problems, thinking, and operating to facilitate maneuvering in change [28,31]. However, this takes time because “any significant change in personality structure, even if positive, elicits anxiety that must be controlled in order to permit effective functioning in the world” [41] (p. 33). After the critical experience, significant values and attitudes are rethought, different behavioral strategies are tested, and various alternatives are explored. On this basis, new decisions and commitments are made, leading to the formation of desired identity [11]. Although identity achievement status does not mean the end of identity development, a person feels emotionally comfortable, has strong confidence in decisions, and may be less dependent on environmental influences or pressures.
Learning and growth are useful for the establishment of professional identity, loyalty assurance, and the generation of positive results during organizational change. Critical experiences promote psychosocial development and self-knowledge in pursuit of professional self-realization. Lifelong learning supports the identification of personality value systems, contributing to strong motivation for work and the usage of authentic potential through conscious efforts to change.

4. Discussion of Results and Future Research

Based on six theoretical frameworks (Hiatt, Kotter, Kübler-Ross, Goleman, Mezirow, and Marcia), a three-dimensional perspective on managerial growth is formed through the creation of an emotionally supportive work environment with organizational change actors. This enables the achievement of strategic results at the individual, group, and organizational levels (see Figure 1).
Based on these findings, an integrated approach to managerial growth is presented that focuses on three aims of personal change—productivity, connection, and self-realization—in the context of long-term organizational transformations.
Managerial growth in the strategic-operational dimension includes the pursuit of productivity which is ensured through the elucidation of a clear change vision, the alignment of change actors’ interests, and gradual employee engagement in the process. Successful implementation of strategic goals and efficiency requires a combination of leadership and management skills as well as the readiness to integrate innovative solutions into established work procedures and organizational culture. Studies [20] have diagnosed an important relationship between strategic leadership and both employee engagement and organizational transformation, whilst innovation does not escape challenges and “problem solving becomes the context for most learning” [34] (p. 6). Other authors [27,28] discuss the notion that not all managers have leadership skills, and agree with the view that professional development is related to the ability to initiate change in a group, troubleshoot, and flexibly maneuver in decision-making both within and outside the organization. Research shows that challenges arise when change is driven by external forces and when managers, especially those at the middle level, are not key decision makers [16]. Promoting an alternative approach to organizational learning can occur externally and can force a response, such as “changes to political actors and regimes resulting from elections” [42] (p. 151). Authors [28,31] agree with results that suggest that the development of political awareness, reconciliation of different interests, and adaptability are crucial characteristics of a manager when navigating power relationships in the process of change. There is a need for future empirical research to address the following problem: What methods of self-development do managers use to combine existing powers and responsibilities at distinct levels of organizational hierarchy and collaborate with external forces?
Transparent and timely management communication becomes a crucial factor in the conscious formation of employee motivation in the context of organizational change. Managers are responsible for developing mutual dialogue with subordinates by logically explaining the need for change, representing opportunities and threats, and collecting feedback to understand background conversations [16,20,27]. The growth of managers in the strategic-operational dimension also takes place by improving the competence of coaching, which includes focusing on staff training and individual counseling and providing timely feedback and proper evaluation of work efforts during organizational transformations. Bjerlöv and Docherty [34] demonstrated that productive collective reflection is part of the learning process: it helps to develop mutual thinking about what a task is, how it is understood, and how it can be carried out in its existing context. It can be stated that a significant workload in the process of innovation implementation falls on middle managers, as they become direct change catalysts in organizing a fluent educational process, helping subordinates to adapt to a shift. De Klerk [17] also observed that managerial growth starts by taking responsibility for listening to subordinates’ attitudes to change and becoming conductors of emotions to reduce the intensity of resistance. This research data correlates with studies [12,13] that suggest that opaque communication creates an emotionally unfavorable and inefficient atmosphere in the workplace.
This research shows that a crucial path to managerial growth is to approach radical organizational changes as a painful loss from the perspective of employees. Studies [4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12,13] emphasize that employees perceive uncomfortable inner experiences and emotions associated with personal financial, professional, social, and psychological losses. The healing of traumatic emotions is essential to avoid feeling stuck in organizational transitions [17] so a manager’s careful analysis of relationship dynamics and conscious recognition of the emotional spectrum while facilitating change is a part of their professional growth.
These findings address studies on pandemic consequences [2,7,43]. Managerial growth in the social-emotional dimension provides guidelines on how to navigate the working from home scenario; realizing that social distancing is the loss of direct collegial relationships encourages managers to adapt to new models of practice through facilitative acceptance of group dynamics and empathic attention, creating a sense of belonging in distanced communication with subordinates.
Therefore, managerial growth in terms of the social-emotional dimension overlaps a sustainable connection. Employee involvement is an integral part of cooperative success because they implement initiatives of their own leadership and decide on the outcome of the activity [20]. Conscious managerial efforts are designed to neutralize resistance and motivate subordinates. Castillo et al. [8] showed that various stages of organizational change typically deteriorate relationships with supervisors and co-workers. Consequently, the growth of managers includes not only the consistent coaching of employees during transformations but also the development of emotional relationships with subordinates and strengthening social cooperation. Studies [41,42] affirm that the ability to conduct reflective and facilitative dialogue with subordinates can lead to mutual learning, deep understanding and insight, collaborative consciousness, and action. Resilient relationships ensure the support and commitment of subordinates [12]. The importance of a social connection is also discussed in studies [6,14] that stress empathy towards subordinates’ experiences, sensitive attention to their needs, and facilitation as essential elements of change that weaken resistance to transitions.
To achieve effective cooperation at the group level, the need for an active individual to work with oneself through the recognition of psychodynamic processes and conscious self-regulation becomes apparent. Some authors [17,28] also claim that managers must develop the ability to perceive emerging emotions and recognize their impact on oneself and their environment, remaining still and centered. Contrarily, Bjerlöv and Docherty [34] emphasize that stress arises from the frustration of efforts to make sense of what different parties in a work situation—colleagues, superiors, customers, and suppliers—mean, intend, value, and prioritize in their interactions with each other so individual reflection cannot reduce the ambiguity, it requires interaction.
This study is based on the attitude that each person is primarily an employee and only then a manager. A manager’s self-development discourse needs to be analyzed from the human perspective to maintain a balance between organizational change and personal growth in the perceptual-spiritual dimension. Studies [11,12,17] also emphasize that larger-scale structural changes inextricably affect all workers and can become traumatic experiences as they touch on aspects of physical and psychological security, relationship expression, and other emotional issues. Change takes a unique meaning for each person because “individuals are already aware of their current state: health, comfort level, financial position, relationships, satisfaction with work, family status and many other factors that comprise their personal situations” [16] (p. 46).
The goal of managerial growth at the individual level is self-realization which is anchored in a commitment that ensures the integration of internal and external expectations and a more focused motivation to work. This study argues that an intense physical, mental, and emotional workload can be a stimulus for authentic self-knowledge and personal growth through the emergence of unexpected value insights, leading to awareness raising, worldview transformations, and identity grounding. Bjerlöv and Docherty [34] note that “understanding work, job design, organization, and its activities depends upon the possibility of comparing one’s own perceptions and experiences with those of others, <…> because there is a lack of clarity or consistency regarding such factors as values, goals, intentions, resources, limits, and domains, authority, and discretion”. The data obtained suggest organizational change is equivalent to critical experiences, which other authors refer to as “dissociating dilemmas” [34] or “disequilibrating circumstances” [4]. Research supports the idea that the highest potential for managerial growth corresponds to the examination of critical experiences leading to conscious choices; reflective insights force a shift in human perception, value systems, and behavioral patterns, affecting the authentic decisions of both learning and management. This corresponds to other authors’ [34,35,36,38] propositions that the deepest discoveries about oneself, one’s environment, and one’s life are formed by significant changes, including in the professional field. Such transformations reveal the authentic identity and promote human self-realization in personal and social lives, helping to adapt to the socio-cultural context [39,40].
Changes are constant and inevitable in the modern business environment and some authors [42] (p. 147) even state that change is “undoubtedly afoot in terms of new management doctrines”. This requires deeper scientific investigations, discerning the phenomenon of managerial growth in general and in organizational transitions. Management practitioners also have opposing viewpoints regarding priorities that managers must follow, e.g., Maxwell [28] acknowledges development by serving people first, while Horowitz [44] states that this is completely different in peace and war because management is related to organizational survival. Therefore, another aspect for future research might overlap the context of managerial growth with modes of organizational development and optimization.
Summarizing the results of this study, managerial growth in organizational change is revealed to moderate multidimensionality on the organizational, group, and personal levels. This means that a manager can encompass change targets from everyone’s perspective and experience—including themselves. The challenge is to face uncertainty and stress with the ability to recognize and manage polarity, paradox, and dilemma [45,46]. These results complement studies [10,11,12,13] which suggest that managing change in an organization, regardless of the human context and the role of participants in the process, becomes a challenge in integrating innovation into a work culture in the long term because of constant strife and conflict and also because of the loss of motivation and the risk of rotation [47]. Relating to this, other research supports an integrated approach to managerial growth by expanding scientific knowledge to change management, organizational psychology, and lifelong learning.
In this paper, we tend to explain and represent the directions of managerial growth, but do not expand the content of detailed “know how” techniques to achieve results. The cause of this might be the complexity of the topic and too broad a range of employed literature having been selected for theory synthesis. Another limitation is that chosen theoretical approaches are not new and may not reflect the latest research and realities.
Research implications overlap practical guidelines for middle managers in (1) understanding the underpinnings of possible organizational change dynamics and resonance in them; and (2) taking advantage of good practices related to self-development directions to help oneself and one’s subordinates. The study also provides insights for HR professionals via: (1) topics for staff training such as self-care, emotional intelligence, and change management in general; (2) knowledge on the necessary self-developmental skills of middle managers when recruiting them for planned future organizational change; and (3) insights into how to form an emotionally favorable organizational culture and traditions that foster a cooperative work environment. These findings may also contribute to overall organizational development, stressing some ideas for the heads of organizations to provide more financial resources to support middle managers during organizational change and to ensure transparent communication on change strategy to prevent the confusion and stress of managers. These research implications might also be adapted in the context of higher education for study program developers and lecturers to supplement management, psychology, and other disciplinary study programs that respond to the topics and problems of organizational change, addressing the knowledge and skills necessary for change managers or middle managers.

5. Conclusions

The conclusions of this study provide insights into the context, aims, and directions of managerial growth in organizational change and are as follows. First, the context of organizational change can be understood as an educational environment that creates incentives for individual change through managerial growth at the macro, meso, and micro levels, and encompasses not only the development of personal and professional skills but also the conscious evolutionary expansion of the inner world and the maturity of professional motivation. Second, managerial growth in the context of organizational change is targeted at three main objectives at the organizational, group, and individual levels: productivity, connection, and self-realization. Third, managerial growth in the context of organizational change is directed in three dimensions: (1) the strategic-operational dimension overlaps the development of leadership skills to ensure successful change implementation in the organization; (2) the social-emotional dimension overlaps the development of psychosocial skills, helping to overcome difficulties through relationships and an emotionally supportive workplace environment; and (3) the perceptual-spiritual dimension overlaps the development of personal maturity and professional motivation, disclosing authentic performance during organizational change.

Author Contributions

Conception and draft of the manuscript, writing, figure preparation, funding acquisition—A.K. Writing, reviewing and editing—A.D. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research is funded by the European Social Fund under measure No. 09.3.3-LMT-K-712, “Development of Competencies of Scientists, other Researchers, and Students through Practical Research Activities”.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.


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Figure 1. Elements of managerial growth in the context of organizational change.
Figure 1. Elements of managerial growth in the context of organizational change.
Sustainability 14 04523 g001
Table 1. Theoretical approaches to managerial growth.
Table 1. Theoretical approaches to managerial growth.
Theoretical ApproachAuthorField of ScienceContext for Managerial Growth
Change LevelChange Dimension
ADKAR ModelHiattManagementOrganizationalStrategic and Operational
Eight Steps Change ModelKotterManagementOrganizationalStrategic and Operational
Five Stages of Grief ModelKübler-RossPsychologyGroupSocial and Emotional
Emotional Intelligence at Work TheoryGolemanPsychology EducationGroupSocial and Emotional
Transformational Learning TheoryMezirowEducationIndividualPerceptual and Spiritual
Identity Status ModelMarciaPsychologyIndividualPerceptual and Spiritual
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Kolbergytė, A.; Dromantaitė, A. A Theoretical Analysis of Managerial Growth in the Context of Organizational Change. Sustainability 2022, 14, 4523.

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