Managing resistance to change is often the black hole of leadership. Is there a leadership challenge that sucks more time and energy, that creates more apprehension, animosity and disengagement – on both sides of the table?
In fact, it is often ‘resistance to the resistance’ that escalates tension and creates more barriers. It’s human nature. Even polished leaders with an abundance of emotional intelligence can become worn down and reactive by the constant flow of change, and the unrelenting need to get others on board before the ship sails.
According to research by Dr. John Kotter, “70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail. Why do they fail? Because organizations often do not take the holistic approach required to see the change through.”
Is there a correlation between the failure of 70% of major change efforts — and the number of leaders with insufficient emotional intelligence and communication skills?
He goes on to say, “Leaders who know what they are doing will “aim for the heart.” They will connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They will make the business case come alive with human experience, engage the senses, create messages that are simple and imaginative, and call people to aspire.”
Dr. Kotter’s emphasis on the importance of the first step “Create a Sense of Urgency” recalls once again the continuing wisdom of W. Edwards Deming: “The success of any venture depends heavily on its beginning. By focusing on the first 15%, the remaining 85% will effortlessly follow.” [ignore the word 'effortlessly'. Deming was clearly an optimist.]
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Exceptional communication – in all its dimensions – is clearly the primary differentiator in all successful change management initiatives.
Exceptional listening is a mental archaeological dig.
A leader who is able to manage the mining of relevant information [including anecdotal historical learning] combines exceptional listening with emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills. Involving others, suspending premature judgment and recognizing critical information treasures are key to launching a successful change initiative.
Interview those on the front lines of many failed change initiatives and you will find more than one person who could have predicted the pitfalls and tried to communicate about them, but their concerns were either ignored or treated as unreasonable resistance to change.
Often, a major barrier is distrust of leadership. Well-founded or not, the perception of broken promises, hidden agendas and previous waste of time and energy on failed initiatives can increase resistance. A leadership coach who has no permanent relationship to the enterprise or leadership can often facilitate open communication, surface questions and collaborate with leadership to lead the first 15% expedition.
Link to Dr. Kotter’s 8 Steps to Manage Change:
Additional resources for managing resistance to change: