Change Leadership: What You Need to Know From the Get-Go

by | Oct 28, 2016 | approachable leadership

Change leadership is a hard job. And it’s never ending.

This is because change is a routine part of life – a blessing and a curse. American journalist, Sydney Harris put it this way:

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

Humans are designed for change. Think of it this way. The fact that you are on the planet today means that generations and generations of your ancestors were really good at adapting to change. Adapting to change is hard-wired into our operating systems.

But just because we can deal with change doesn’t mean we can’t be overwhelmed by it. Especially when it happens fast. Even though we CAN adapt doesn’t mean we always WANT to. We like what we know, and that’s why we resist change. It’s important that, as leaders and people, we understand that this resistance to change is also human nature. And that resistance burns up both physical and emotional energy.

The Hero Assumption

The Hero Assumption (“nobody thinks they are the villain of their story”) is one of the core themes of Approachable Leadership. Our beliefs about our teammates have a direct impact on how they perform. If you assume your people want to do great work, they do. If you assume they don’t give a crap, they won’t. Don’t believe it? Check out the stunning Pygmalion Effect research by Rosenthal and others.

What does this have to do with resistance to change? Everything. If you make the Hero Assumption about your teammates you know that resistance to change is natural. It’s just an obstacle on the way to adapting to change. Something your heroes will overcome. You don’t judge resistance as a sign of weakness, lack of integrity, or laziness.

Good change leadership starts with understanding that resistance to change is natural. We all do it. They prepare for resistance. They embrace it. And they do their best to help their team overcome this natural resistance from the get-go.

How do you mitigate resistance?

There are several strategies to mitigate resistance. First, acknowledge that it is natural to resist change. Second, discuss it. An approachable leader makes it OK to talk about what’s troubling you. The three questions of approachable leaders are a great starting point for these discussions:

  1. Do you have what you need? Perhaps the change initiative creates a resource constraint. Is there anything you can add to the effort that can help your team overcome an obstacle they face?
  2. What would make things better? Maybe there is something you could take away that would make things a little bit easier or less frustrating.
  3. Where are we going? A big reason people resist change is that they don’t really understand or agree with the need for the change in the first place. Talking with your team about the need and value of a change effort often helps them grit through a difficult time.

Being an Approachable Leader reduces distance between the leader and the team. It builds trust. Trust in you. To do two things:

  • Keep the ship moving forward; and
  • Value each person’s place on the crew.

If your team members believe that you care about them and the safety, security, and success of the vessel, changes will be met with less resistance.

Guaranteed.

For more on change leadership, check out the first two articles in our Managing Change series here and here.