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Don’t “overcome” resistance––lead it!

What do you do when you meet the “manager” on the road?


Now before you get out the pitchforks and torches––I am not advocating violence. Let me set the ground…

My first question is a play on an ancient “koan.” These are puzzles the ancient Masters developed to help us think about difficult problems with clarity and simplicity.

One of the most famous is, “What do you do when you meet the Buddha on the road?”

In this exercise, the Buddha is not the person, but that part of each of us that is obsessed with the unattainable ideal of perfection. Perfection is not a destination, but a never-ending process. So the best thing we can do when we run up against this idealistic, obsessive part of us is––kill it!

Don’t try to “overcome” resistance––lead it!

People are naturally resistant to change. They often have good reasons––and most of the time, it starts with bad management!

What are some of the reasons people resist change? What are some of the reasons YOU might resist change? Take a minute to think about these questions before you read on.

Any particular change might:

  • Threaten their job or “territory”

  • Make their job more difficult

  • Force them to do more with less

  • Upset a comfortable status quo

  • Feelings of incompetence or failure

  • Loss of control

Can you understand these concerns? You’ve likely experienced them yourself when facing change, especially a change that was imposed on you.

Now for the Big 3:

  • Lack of trust/respect in leaders

  • Lack of clarity

  • They weren’t part of it

I still hear leadership experts talk about “driving” and “managing” change. Kill that thought immediately!

The “manager” tries to drive change. The leader doesn’t have to…

Having said that––you can certainly try to “drive” change. Some people get away with it––to a degree. You can employ the authoritarian style and impose change through fear, force and coercion. Of course, that’s the best way to turn resistance into outright revolt.

General Patton famously said:

“You drive cattle. You lead people.”

Instead of trying to drive people through a period of change, let’s lead them. Inspire, Empower and Guide them through change. To do this you’re going to need Courage, Compassion and Wisdom.

It takes genuine Courage to innovate––to lead change. It’s not always a life and death situation, but implementing change means putting yourself on the line, exposing yourself to risk of failure and to public scrutiny and criticism. You’ve got to face real fears when you lead change––your own fears and as a leader, the fears of the people you serve.

You’ve got to understand and appreciate the needs and concerns of the people who trust in your leadership. This requires authentic Compassion––a sincere empathy for the impact this change will have on others.

And Wisdom. Knowledge and experience are important parts of Wisdom, but Wisdom has one more essential element: awareness. Wisdom is knowledge and experience tempered by awareness. Before embarking on any change, take a good look in the mirror. And the best mirror for any leader is the people you serve.

The first step…

One of the most persistent yet destructive missives about leading change is this one:

“You’ve got to get people to ‘buy-in.’”

Seriously? If you have to do a sell job, you skipped the most powerful first step in any change process…

Forget “buy-in.” Start ASKIN’!

John Quincy Adams said:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more––you are a leader.”

He said nothing about driving or selling!

A genuine leader is someone with the ability to attract willing followers. You do this by leading by example––people follow examples much more enthusiastically than orders. And you do this by getting people involved––early and often. At no time is this more important than when you’re making big changes.

Now let’s assume for the time being that you posses and practice a reasonable degree of Courage, Compassion and Wisdom. (Please note the work “practice” in that assumption!)

I hope you agreed with me earlier––people sometimes have very good reasons to resist change. The “manager” generally tries to overpower, squash or even ignore these points of resistance. The leader understands them, anticipates them and gets in front of them.

Here are 8 STRATEGIES that can help you lead the resistance––in the most productive way…

Please note: These are not “management techniques.” These are leadership strategies. To make these strategies work, you have to model the behavior you expect from others. You’ve got to “walk the walk!”

#1 Never limit yourself to one leadership style…

People respond to change in different ways. Some will need reassurance and a soft touch. Some will run with the ball and run you over if you get in the way––others will need a lot of explaining, coaching and encouragement. Be articulate in a number of styles and able to adapt your approach.

#2 Be tough––yet compassionate…

Compassion is too often associated with kindness, or worse, with weakness. Genuine compassion is not always the first and never the last. In this application, you’ve got to have the resolve to lead change. You will mitigate resistance by understanding and addressing the needs and concerns of the people who trust you to lead them through this change.

#3 Commit yourself to personal and professional Mastery…

One of the greatest fears in facing change is the feeling of incompetence. Do you have the skills you need to respond to this shift? Embrace the opportunity to develop new skills, talents and abilities…

#4 Be confident yet humble––lead by example…

I keep saying that people follow examples much more enthusiastically than orders. When they see you learning new skills and facing your own fears regarding this change, they will be inspired by your example! Walk the walk and others will walk with you!

#5 Be flexible, adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty…

This one seems obvious. After all, the only certainty in life is uncertainty itself! The only true constant in life is––change!

If you want others to embrace change––embrace it yourself. If you want others to be excited and enthusiastic about change––be excited and enthusiastic yourself.

#6 Be a skilled communicator…

Of course you want to communicate openly and clearly. Share the reasons and rationale for any change. But there’s more…

Despite conventional wisdom, communication is not a two-way process. It is a cycle. Throughout a period of change, you are exchanging needs, goals, concerns and new ideas––from everyone involved. Nourish this cycle and you will produce unexpected and remarkable results.

#7 Be a dedicated teacher, coach and mentor…

The “manager” delegates––the leader INSPIRES. The “manager” drives––the leader GUIDES.

If you truly want to engage people in the process of change, embed this process in your culture. Make them partners in the continual process of creativity, innovation and productive change––in themselves as well as the organization.

As Tom Peters said, “Leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.” You do this in person––by teaching, coaching and mentoring.

#8 Lead by sharing…

You can’t do it alone. Power is simply the ability to get things done. Your power as a leader is completely dependent on the power of the people you serve.

“A wise man does not lay up his treasures. The more he shares with others, the more he has for his own." ~Lao Tzu

  • Power

  • Authority

  • Respect

  • Trust

  • Loyalty

As a leader, these are your treasures. The more you share, the more you receive in kind…

Your power as a leader grows in direct proportion to your willingness to Empower others.

Courage is not the absence of fear. The absence of fear is stupidity. Courage is acting in the face of your fears and getting the job done despite them.

Nowhere is this more important than in facing change. Ultimately, when it comes to change, resistance is futile. The only true constant in business and in life is––change. Best to embrace it. That’s the true meaning of “going with the flow.”

Still, I understand that change is hard. These ideas are simple––not easy! Despite all my research, study and practice––it is for me too. Change, uncertainty––adversity. All close cousins.

I’ll leave you with a thought that comforts me whenever I face change, uncertainty and the inevitable adversity that goes along with it:

“Celebrate Adversity: It’s your opportunity to become the person you may never have imagined without it!”

This is what I'll be talking about at the CU Leadership Convention in Las Vegas… Are you going? Register here!

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