Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

November 1999
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Resistance to Change – Part 2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In the last Leadership Letter, we introduced the important subject of change, detailing five specific reasons for resistance to change. The following are four additional reasons for resistance:

6. Fear of personal failure. Some changes make expertise obsolete and requires learning new ways of doing things. Many people will be reluctant to trade knowledge and skills they have mastered for new ones that may be too difficult to learn. Thus, proposed change will be more acceptable if it includes ample provision for training people in the new ways of doing things.

7. Loss of status or power. Major organizational changes invariably result in some shift of power and status for certain individuals and groups. New strategies often require expertise that is not possessed by some of the people currently enjoying high status as problem solvers. Those who are threatened with a loss of status and power will frequently oppose the change.

8. Threats to values and ideals. Threats to a person’s values will arouse strong emotions that fuel resistance to change. Moreover, if the values are embedded in a strong organizational culture, then resistance will be widespread and not isolated.

9. Resentment of interference. Some people do not want to be controlled by others, and attempts to manipulate them or force change will elicit resentment and hostility. Unless people acknowledge the need for change and perceive they have a choice in determining how to change, they will resist it.

Leaders should not understand resistance to change as merely the result of ignorance, inflexibility, or weakness of character. It can be the normal defensive response of people who want to protect what they know and possess, as well as their own sense of self-determination. Sometimes the voice of resistance can even prevent us from taking untimely or foolish actions.

Rather than viewing resistance as an obstacle to beat down or circumvent, it is frequently more realistic and advantageous to see it as intellectual and emotional energy that can be redirected to improve change, once the opponents have been converted to supporters. In this regard, one of the leader’s primary instruments of change is prayer.

In addition, showing respect toward those who resist builds stronger relationships, not only improving the change at hand but also providing a stronger base for future changes.

Furthermore, leaders have already worked through the personal trauma and pain of the proposed change and its implications long before they even initially present it to their constituents. Thus, it is easy for leaders, sometimes, to “jump to beginnings.” It is not so easy for others. “Jumping to beginnings” is a temptation leaders must resist.

Finally, leaders must realize that just as it takes miles to turn a large ship at sea, it often takes years to implement significant change in a large organization. Dramatic moments of “revolutionary” transformation are only a small part of it. Organizational change is longer and subtler than can be managed by a single leader. It is generated from the insights of many people working to improve the whole, and it accumulates over long periods. To lead change effectively, leaders must be committed to the long haul; God is!

The next Leadership Letter will describe the change process.

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