As a leader, do you understand the natural resistance to change?

As a leader, do you understand the natural resistance to change?

Employee Resistance Isn’t All Bad

Leaders and managers typically carry many misconceptions pertaining to employee resistance which is more specifically a resistance to change. Many leaders and managers assume resistance results from employees simply lacking a desire to change or being insubordinate which casts a dark shadow over the concept of resistance. Effective leaders and managers understand resistance can be a force promoting positive, sustainable change.

Perhaps the largest problem with resistance is the concepts lack of definition. Assuming the meaning to be “resistant to change” or “insubordination” creates a one-dimensional view overlooking the more positive perspective of resistance occurring as a protective behavior. Resistance, by definition, attempts to block a some thing or change and perceived within an organizational sense, the resistant person is attempting to block the change threatening the original state of affairs within an organization (Kotter, 2012). From this perspective, the resistant person is not insubordinate but a protector trying to preserve the organization or some aspect of it. If used properly, resistance becomes a positive force for change when the person is presented the change as a benefit or beneficial shift from the status quo. Lacking a clear picture of change allows the organizational member to become resistant due to forming faulty or erroneous beliefs pertaining to the impending change (Kotter, 2012).

Leaders often assume employees are resistant when they are actually reluctant (Kotter, 2012). This difference between resistance and reluctance needs clarifying because reluctant individuals are often still willing to change. The reluctant person may simply not be excited and may drag their feet during tasks involving the change, but assuming them resistant may actually cause them to become resistant. The solution in this situation also involves communicating the change and benefits more effectively.

There are many situations of employee resistance caused simply but the unhappiness of the change such as layoffs, pay reductions, and other negative impacting events on personnel. In these instances employees won’t be happy and may need time to adjust to the organizational changes. From this perspective, employees are not resistant to change but instead to the results of the change. Concentrating communication of change on beneficial aspects such as “saving jobs” or “saving the company” provide examples of how to focus on positive changes in these situations (Kotter, 2012).

In all change situations, clear communication is necessary but to facilitate positive, lasting change the resistant employees should not be seen in negative terms and treated accordingly. Instead, make the employees agents of change through collaboration and bringing valued input to the change process. Individuals are less likely to be resistant if they are part of the change process rather than the object of it.


Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. (pp. 23–46). Amazon Kindle: Harvard Business Review Press.

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