Leadership in Change Management: Overcoming Resistance

Leading peoplWinston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...e though organizational and cultural change is challenging. It’s important, of course, for a leader to understand what causes people to resist change, but this understanding  is useless without the knowledge of how to overcome it. This post focuses on what leaders can do to overcome resistance.

As the leader of a remote team of engineers, I implemented policy and procedural changes that came from leaders who were located over a thousand miles away, and who my team felt didn’t “understand what we did.”  They felt like outsiders and referred to themselves as the “red  headed stepchildren” of the organization. That led to suspicion, speculation and fear. This is what I learned from that experience, and from James O’Toole’s outstanding book on the subject, “Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership“.

To overcome resistance and succeed in bringing about change, a leader needs to:

  • Build on the existing culture and traditions.
  • Reflect the needs and ambitions of the employees.
  • Include the employees in decision making.
    • People become vested in ideas they helped form, and are more willing to change.
    • People expect to be involved. It’s become part of our work culture.
    • This can provide one of our primary motivators: a sense of purpose.
  • Provide hope.  An optimistic outlook builds the energy to implement or act on the changes.
  • If things are going badly, however, don’t hide it. Churchill could deliver grim news about WWII and inspire the British people at the same time.
  • Follow through on commitments and maintain integrity to win the trust, acceptance and loyalty of employees.

Finally, people tend to resist change when it is forced on them.  Coercion only increases resistance.  Effective leaders can “pull” people in a new direction using ideas and integrity.

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© 2011 – 2014, Tracy McBroom. All rights reserved.

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