If You Want to Lead Get Ready for This!



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
gain acceptance
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.