5 Ways Intelligent Leadership Can Address Resistance to Change 

April 1, 2022

To resist change is a natural human reaction. Learn what intelligent leaders can do to defeat resistance to change through better communication and engagement.

Overview: Resistance to change is human nature. We don’t like to leave our comfort zones due to fear of the unknown and the uncertain. Through communication, involvement, empowerment, and support, intelligent leaders can tear down these natural obstacles. 

5 Ways Intelligent Leadership Can Address Resistance to Change

Nature has programmed us humans to dislike, avoid, and even fear change. Change brings uncertainty. And on a primal level, uncertainty equals danger in the human mind. Perceived danger induces stress. And stress switches off our higher-level cognitive abilities like analysis and empathic thinking. 

That is, in a nutshell, the explanation of resistance to change.

“We have always done it this way. Why change anything now?” That’s what our brain tells us. And that happens to be the most dangerous and derailing thought from the perspective of progress and business competitiveness. 

How can intelligent leadership and leadership coaching address this deeply-rooted resistance to change? 

We are all change-averse to some degree. 

1. The Pre-emptive Mitigation of the Shock of Change

Leaders can address resistance to change by emphasizing continuity. It may seem counterintuitive to dwell on continuity to facilitate change, but it works. Here’s why. 

Intelligent leadership promotes employee engagement and buy-in. Employees who buy into the organizational purpose tend to identify with it and with what the organization represents. A sweeping change leaves such employees wondering whether their organization will cease to be the one over which they feel psychological ownership. They may even see change as a force that robs them of a purpose. 

By reiterating the identity of the organization and the continuity of its purpose, leaders can allay such fears. Communicating that “we will always be who we are” can drum up support for change even on the part of those most fearful of change. 

2. Clear Communication of Long-term Strategies

Long-term business strategy guides change efforts. Leaders implement change because they want their organization to get from here to there. Few employees understand the narrative and reasoning behind the long-term strategy, however. And therefore, most employees fail to understand the need for change. 

Although our innate change-averseness may dull our reasoning, it is easier to accept change once we understand why we need it. 

Intelligent leaders communicate well and can connect with their reports on an emotional level. Such leaders understand the need to communicate their reasoning behind the change they want to see and how clear communication can defeat the dreaded resistance to change. 

3. Communicating the Challenges The Organization Meets

Explaining long-term organizational strategies to employees and stakeholders helps overcome resistance to change. Clarifying the raison d’etre of the strategies is even better. Thus, those resisting the change can gain a thorough understanding of why the organization needs to change. 

In addition to overcoming resistance to change, the openness required to communicate the details of strategic plans and challenges builds trust and improves employee engagement. 

4. Who Resists Change the Most? 

Most resistance to change seems to come from frontline employees. Interestingly, top-level executives are less averse to change than their reports. 

The explanation of this situation is clear, based on what we have discussed thus far. 

  • Top-level executives have first-hand information about the challenges and strategic plans of their organizations. Mostly, they are the ones who create the strategic plans. 
  • Frontline employees find it more difficult to access essential information. 

This only reiterates the importance of good communication and openness by top leadership. 

Mid-level managers may also represent a significant source of resistance to change. At the same time, however, managers are also more willing to leave their comfort zones and venture onto the path of uncertain improvement. 

5. Clarifying the Economic Implications of Change

If the proposed change can result in pay cuts or other adverse economic consequences for various stakeholders, resistance is more likely. To defeat this resistance factor, leaders can resort to negotiation and agreement. 

Rewards offered to resistors don’t have to be material in nature. Increased participation and involvement are potential solutions. Facilitation and support fit the intelligent leadership approach as well. 

Effective resistance management recognizes the deep-rooted nature of the problem it addresses. It systematically achieves its goals using intelligent leadership methods predicated upon empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence. 

To learn more about how you can join the IL Movement as a coach, or how you can benefit from bringing IL Solutions to your organization, contact us today

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