Change Leadership – Critical, Tame and Wicked Problems.

Most change leadership models fall under the following ten commandments:

  1. An accepted need to change
  2. A viable vision/alternative state
  3. Change agents in place
  4. Sponsorship from above
  5. Realistic scale & pace change
  6. An integrated transition programme
  7. A symbolic end to the status quo
  8. A plan for likely resistance
  9. Constant advocacy
  10. A locally owned benefits plan

(Grint, 2008, p11).


There are examples and is evident in my reading and blogs, e.g. my action plan for change, and Kotter model here.


Grint, 2008, described two types of problems:

1) Tame or Critical

2) Wicked

Critical Problem, eg a ‘crisis’, is presented as self-evident in nature, as encapsulating very little time for decision- making and action, and it is often associated with authoritarianism – Command (Howieson and Kahn, 2002; Cf. Watters, 2004 in Grint 2008). These are problems that require a decision at a point of crisis.

Where Tame problems are ‘complicated but resolvable through unilinear acts’ with definite answers the uncertainty is limited and known. Wicked problems are complex; the issue can not be differentiated from the environment; the difference between tame and wicked may also be dependent on the available resources.(Grint, 2008)

Examples in Schools

Critical There is a gas leak, and the boiler is out.
Tame A timetabling issue – a member of staff has requested to part-time hours.
Wicked Staff resistance due to a move to academisation to create more leadership autonomy.

Wallace 2004 refers to management as the tasks which maintain the daily status quo and leadership as visionary strategic thinking. Wallace describes the meta task of ‘orchestration’, where leaders step into the role of management in times of crisis until systems and structures are replaced, then leaders step back into their ideological positions. The management role is the solving of Tame problems and leadership the wicked ones.

Problem Realm
Critical Command
Tame Management
Wicked Leadership


Critical situations need a decision, which may require an authoritarian response, I am aware of the negative connotations of such. However, as a school leader, I have encountered various examples of people who come solely to for an answer, for a decision, to be led. There is nothing inherently wrong with authoritarianism in the circumstance. 

Tame problems should be solved through management, supported through structures. Leaders may have to step into these roles, as mentioned earlier. Wicked problems require questions rather than answers; these issues cannot be solved without the environment as a whole; therefore, the environment and the people in it must be included in the solution (through the questioning).

Problems are rarely discrete. However, recognising that problems will move between the three types may be helpful in determining future actions as a leader. (Grint 2008)

‘it is often the case that the same individual or group with authority will switch between the Command, Management, and Leadership roles as they perceive – and constitute – the problem as Critical, Tame or Wicked, or even as a single problem that itself shifts across these boundaries. Indeed, this movement – often perceived as ‘inconsistency’ by the decision maker’s opponents – is crucial to success as the situation, or at least our perception of it, changes.’ (Grint, 2008, p14)


Wallace, M. Journal of Educational Change (2004) 5: 57.

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