Overcoming Resistance to Change
Sometimes, leadership is simply using your influence to bring about change. Overcoming resistance to change is a skill all leaders must therefore master.
It is nearly impossible to lead without changing something. Whether you are improving things, adding staff, training people, or starting something brand new, there is always change in leadership. Change and leadership are inseparable.
One of the things I appreciate the most about God is that God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Everything else changes, but God’s character can always be counted on.
So it’s interesting to me that even though everything around us changes constantly, we seem to fight change almost all the time. Why is that? Why are we resistant to change?
And if this is true of human nature, why are leaders trying to lead without first embracing excellence in bringing about change?
Today’s topic is a foundation for how to look at and find ways to lead others into change: overcoming resistance to change.
First, let’s look at the resistance to change and then let’s clarify steps we can take to get our organization to accept change as a part of a healthy culture.
What is the core reason for resistance to change? Sometimes people react and put their energy against change, simply because it will make something different or new. But the one thing we need to realize is that the resistance to change is not necessarily rooted in logic. It’s not about how our minds understand change.
My friend Karl is a strong leader with great vision and is a real strategic thinker. He’s brilliant. More often than not, he is the smartest guy in the room. He told me recently that he has been so frustrated because he will explain to those he leads that they have to do things differently and they immediately react without even hearing him out. If they would just wait, he says, they would understand the logic of it all and get on board. Then he smiles. He knows it isn’t true. You see, even the smartest among us will struggle to lead others into change if we think that the resistance to change is rooted in our minds.
No, here’s the principle that I want to encourage you to operate from:
Change is more emotional and spiritual than logical. Resistance is more about feelings than facts. Resistance to change is about feeling loss.
Sometimes the resistance to change comes from people’s perception that we are taking something away from them. There is a strong feeling of losing something that is valuable to them.
People fight over changing the color of the carpet or, rearranging the front of the worship space.
Why is that?
People resist change because sometimes they associate the old with something of value to them. It’s not logical, it is emotional. It reminds them of something valuable.
Other times the resistance to something new is grounded in fear. What if it doesn’t work? What will happen to me if we move into this new strategy?
You see what I mean? Emotional.
Unfortunately many have us have tried to lead into change by explaining why the change is needed, without ever addressing the reality of feelings. And the resistance grows instead of being dissipated.
Thankfully if we understand the resistance to be emotional, there are specific actions we can take to make change a more accepted part of our culture.
Let me give you two keys to overcoming resistance to change:
- The first key is to help people grieve.
I know it may sound a little touchy feely, but stop trying to push the intellectual logic of the needed change and let people deal with their emotions. There is a time and place for the details and the logic, but not as the driver to dealing with resistance.
Those of you who are pastors may have a tremendous leadership advantage over other industry leaders. You help people grieve loss all the time. The difference is that here, they will be mad at you for initiating change. But as they grieve, they often begin to understand and embrace the need for change. We just need to give them time and respect their feelings.
Matt started as the Pastor of his church three years ago. At first, he waited and watched, built relationships. Then after about a year he started to initiate some small changes in how the church cared for others and how they reached out to the community. He tells a great story of how one of the leaders in the church just started screaming at him about all of the changes. Matt didn’t respond in kind, didn’t try to talk the person into seeing the need for change; he simply asked him questions about the impact the proposed change would have on them. After an hour or so, the person said, “I’m not sure that I agree with the change but I’m starting to understand it.”
People need a safe place to grieve the loss that change brings. Which leads us to another key to overcoming resistance to change:
One of the biggest sociological changes in the past 50 years is that we no longer trust leaders. It’s fascinating to see the shifts in how we, at least here in the United States, view our leaders. We don’t trust.
We have had bad experiences (so have the people in our churches and organizations). It’s magnified in our churches and ministries. There used to be trust simply because of the position of a spiritual leader. Now, it is the opposite.
We can complain about it or we can do something about it.
- The second key is to do everything you can to intentionally build trust.
Build it with individuals and build it with the organization as a whole. Build it on purpose.
You see, the support of people in a time of change is dependent on emotions. If I don’t trust you, then I will always find holes in your logic.
What can you do to build trust in your leadership? Let me give you a couple of specific ways to build trust:
First of all become appropriately transparent. In your leadership, share how change affects you, both in the positive and the negative.
My friend Shawn created a change in his church that had a large group of people angry with him. He was changing their experience from a Saturday night to a Sunday night. In other words he was asking them to shift the very rhythms of how they are involved in the church. That’s a big deal.
When he met with them, he very honestly, emotionally described why this change was needed. Without the change, his family, and other families, would suffer and as he tearfully became transparent, the emotion in the room changed. Think about it.
They trusted him. He was willing to communicate the need of his own family.
Who do you trust? Usually high levels of trust and appropriate transparency go hand in hand.
Become more transparent in how you let others see you and you will experience higher levels of trust.
A second thing you can do to develop trust is to build a track record. Do what you say you will do. Undersell and overdeliver. You don’t have to be a leader for very long to create a track record of trustworthiness.
The resistance to change is really a resistance to loss. The keys to overcoming resistance to change is to help people grieve and to intentionally build trust.
Let me end with this: I said earlier that resistance to change is more emotional and spiritual than logical. It is. We’ve looked at dealing with the emotions. Let me just say this from a spiritual context. Leading into change is one of the greatest opportunities you have as a spiritual leader to lead and spiritually develop your people.
Make sure that the change you are asking them to embrace is something that you personally have been seeking God about. And then ask them to join you in listening to God.
One of the saddest quotes from the old testament is found in Judges 6:10 where God says this to the people who are in need; He says, “I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God …’ But you have not listened to me.”
We need to make sure that is not true for us today. Listen to God and then use your influence to bring about change.
Let’s connect – and start overcoming resistance to change
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What are some examples of resisting change in your setting? How have you worked to overcome this resistance? Let me know in the discussion below.