How Strong Leaders Deal with Resistance to Change

In our last blog, we drew a connection between dealing effectively with difficult people and working relentlessly on knowing who you are as a leader, where you are going, and who you want to take with you on that journey. We’d like to follow up and talk about a related leadership challenge — resistance to change — and how focusing on knowing yourself well matters there, too.

As anyone who has taken an important step toward achieving a goal or initiating a change knows, leadership always triggers resistance. Knowing how to respond to resistance is as important to leadership as any other quality.

When faced with resistance, some leaders capitulate to resisters and back away from leading. Some attempt to overcome resistance by exerting a stronger will than their opponents. (These leaders more often than not fail and burn out in the process.)

Many leaders fall into the easy – but still less effective – options of trying to understand the nature of the resistance, diagnosing why the resistance is happening, working hard to convince the other side, or creating solutions that appease resisters but compromise the needed change.

The best strategy for dealing with resistance may also be the most difficult to execute. Strong leaders deal with resistance by first doing the following three things:

  1. remaining emotionally calm while staying the course;
  2. looking at themselves (instead of the resisters) to see where they might be stuck, and
  3. staying connected to the resisters throughout the process without getting pulled into the drama.

Leaders who work on being emotionally separate and true to their aspirations while staying connected to those they lead provide the stability and maturity their communities need to move through the change. During any crisis of leadership, the better able leaders are to stay focused on themselves – to dig deep for clarity about what’s important – the better able they are to hold steady and move forward.

~ David and Susy