Think about a time when change was foisted upon you. How did you feel, and how did you find yourself reacting to the one who brought the change? Got it in your head? I asked my students last week to share in one-on-one conversations their answers to those questions. Then I asked them — what I’d invite you to give 30 seconds thought to: Talk about a time when you were pushing someone(s) else to change; what did that feel like? What did you encounter in response from the other(s).
I asked them next in groups of 5-7 to come up with the 2 commonalities from answering these questions in one-on-one exchanges. I took notes as they called out the commonalities they came up with. Here are my notes:
|When change was imposed on you||When you brought change|
|Resistance and avoidance||Guilt at pushing someone|
|Rebellion||Once through the initial resistance, you can
|Confusion||There is great uncertainty about
failure or success
|Criticism of those bringing change||Resistance to the change|
|Resentment (hatred, someone called
|Betrayal, heavy emotions when you’re pushing
change towards those you’re close to
|Relief (when you were able to adapt
to the change)
|Isolation from those you’re pushing|
|Frustration||Skepticism towards you|
|Uncertainty, unsureness, confused
I completely and totally expected that they would talk about RESISTANCE, nevertheless I was still blown away by the extent and universality of their responses. I announced professorially: “Forget reading all the great books about ‘leading change.’ You have all produced the essentials in these lists.” There are three inescapable conclusions. For the first I simply quote my friends Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner:
1. “Not one person [of the thousands they studied] claimed to have achieved a personal best by keeping things the same. All leaders,” they continue, “challenge the process.”* Leading involves bringing others to change! Kouzes and Posner study “personal best,” stories, and I guarantee in leadership failures, change and resistance-to-rebellion are almost always the lion’s share of the story of disappointment. And as my students made so patently clear:
2. Challenge and change generate resistance, much of which is directed at the messenger. So:
3. Know it and prepare for it! As you lead change, what do you pay attention to? Given that confusion, anxiety and resistance are inevitable, what works for — to get the work done and to keep you sane and safe in the process?
Love your thoughts, and I’ll share a few of my own next week!
Lead with your best,
* Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 4th ed., 2003, p. 18.