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How Do You Lead Through a Change You’re Resisting?

Two lane road on a cliffside with pine trees
Heading towards a blind curve can be scary...or exciting!

Have to lead your team through a change you don’t like? Here are some tips that have worked for leaders like you.

Any change can trigger resistance in your employees. But what if the resistance is your own? Most leaders start to lose confidence in their ability to lead their team through a change if they are not 100% on board. If you are feeling stuck, here are some tips that will help you move forward.

Remember that your emotions are not “fluff,” they are hard-wired into your brain and impact outcomes. If you’re feeling resistance, there’s usually a good reason, so treat any resistance or negative emotional reaction as something to be understood, not dismissed. Emotions are data, as valuable as any numerical statistic on a spreadsheet. For example, you might be open to a change, but still feel frustration if you’re lacking resources to get it done. Surfacing that frustration can lead to a solution, either getting the headcount or shifting priorities, as opposed to ignoring it and then getting derailed at a future point.

In the change leadership development sessions I run, I ask leaders to remember a time when they resisted a change. Here are the three most common responses:

  • I don’t understand why we are making this change.

  • I wasn’t included in the decision to change, even though it directly impacts me and my team.

  • We tried this type of change before, and it failed.

The good news is that you can work with these in a productive way when you find the “wisdom” in your reactions. Your resistance moves from being an “obstacle,” to simply being a “concern” that has not yet been addressed. This simple shift in perspective will help you discover things that could get in the way as you lead through the change. Here are some ideas to address the responses discussed above:

1. I don’t understand why we’re making this change.

In my experience this is the number one reason people resist a change. If it describes you, trust the wisdom in your instinct not to move forward. If you don’t understand the “why” behind the change, you won’t be able to lead your team through it successfully.

TRY: Reframing your frustration by assuming positive intent. Most likely no one is intentionally keeping information from you. Change sponsors have had access to a lot of information and lose sight of the fact that others are missing these important details. Have a conversation with your boss, colleague, or change sponsor, sharing your desire to understand the reasons behind the decision to change so you and your team can support it effectively.

2. I wasn’t included in the decision to change, even though it directly impacts me and my team.

There is wisdom in feeling upset because your expertise or perspective wasn’t sought out, especially if you could have offered something of value to improve the outcome. Most leaders understand that organizational decisions will be made without seeking the opinions of all leaders. That said, it’s still hard when we’re excluded from something that directly impacts us.

TRY: Offering your message in a way that makes it worth hearing. In other words, take a deep breath and consider that you were most likely not excluded on purpose. Share any information that will be helpful to colleagues (or your boss) now, which will make it more likely they’ll seek your perspective in the future.

3. We tried this before and it didn’t work.

Your wisdom here comes from not wanting to waste time and effort on something that hasn’t worked in the past. On the one hand, you may be right, but then again, maybe circumstances internally or externally have changed. Or it’s possible the individual or team sponsoring this change is unaware of what happened in the past.

TRY: Checking in with the change sponsors. If they are unaware of the history, offer information so they can avoid pitfalls that could negatively impact success. If they are aware, then it will be important for you and your team to understand what’s different this time, or at least why it seems like a better idea now.

Chances are if you’re feeling uncomfortable about an upcoming change, your team will too, so understanding and working through your own resistance will help prepare you to successfully address their resistance too.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


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