How to lead… change resistors

The whole point of leadership is about change. It is a leader’s role to bring about a new reality, to help people navigate to new territory and instigate a new culture. Yet still there are those who freeze up even at the word “change”. Their bodies almost appear to go through some sort of physiological alteration at the thought of the new, eyebrows raised, muscles tensing, eyes widening. How do we lead these people, and how do we enable them to be a part of the changes we are involved in whist keeping them on-side?

Of course there’s no simple or formulaic answer, but here are some tips that may help to consider.

1 – Resistance to change is normal.

We all do it to one extent or another. Even a serial early-adopter will feel some anxiety when having a changed forced upon them. When faced with someone who is resistant to change remember to have compassion, listen to their concerns and seek to understand. Pray together. This may take time, prepare for marathon rather than sprint, but the results could be worth it in the end. It’s true that a time may come where you have to enforce a “my way or the highway” ultimatum, but there are a number of steps to take before this.

2 – Look deeper.

No-one hates change for the sake of hating something. There will always be a reason why this is the case. Dig a little deeper into the reasons why someone is cautious about the change. After they’ve shared their reason you may need to dig deeper still. An individual may give the reason of “we tried it and it didn’t work,” but that pressing deeper into this reason may give an indication of what’s really going on. Maybe they fell out with someone else during the process? Maybe they were personally hurt because of the last experience? Maybe using the 5 why’s technique will help you get to the bottom of what’s going on. Then you can learn from other’s experience and find a way forward together.

3 – Bear in mind psychology.

According to renowned psychologist Carl Jung, those who are further along the introvert scale are more likely to be resistant to change. They need time to process all the implications of a proposal, usually to them self. Help them to process in their own way, asking what information they may need to help further consider the changes. Offer to walk with them, showing each step on the journey. Those also with attachment disorders may by nature find change very hard to navigate.

4 – Appreciate that it makes you stronger.

Usually, people would resist your changes because they can see problems on the road ahead. This can be invaluable as they may see things that you can’t. Use this information. Ask them questions. Request their advice on what they see the problems are and brainstorm how to avoid these pitfalls together. Whilst opposition can sometimes feel like attack against our plans, it can result in a stronger more complete result because of those who at first were hesitant.

5 – Explain why you can’t stay where you are.

Selling a vision of where you’re going is one thing, but an important part of that is to explain why things need to change in the first place. Unsettle people with the present. Give statistics and projections of what’s to come if no action is taken. Remind people of their responsibilities. Climate change groups do this a lot, 30 years ago people started to publicise the data from studies into global warming. They gave projections of what the future could be like if mankind kept consuming in the way they were at the time. The temperature of the earth, the sea levels, pollution levels, the depleted resources of coals and gas. It was this that led to change in culture across the world, with a big drive for recycling and billions spent on research into renewable energy. Paint a picture of the future, and explain why you can’t stay where you are.

Joel Preston

Joel Preston

Director at
Joel is the Director of Evangelism & Mission for British Youth for Christ. He had previously been involved in church-based youthwork for over 10 years and before that spent 4 years at a local Youth for Christ centre.

He specialises in delivering leadership and people management training in a ministry context and has taught for various organisations across the country, including SoulNet, Innovista, SWYM and Youthwork the Conference.
Joel Preston

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