In my previous article I argued that something is seriously wrong with change management and have introduced what I consider to be the five main reasons for it. Now I will zoom in on the first one of the five reasons:

  • Leaders and organizations should move from “resistance management” to change leadership and focus on how to create the right conditions for people to engage with change.

In order to better understand this point, let’s first look at a model of the typical behaviors of leaders in difficult change situations:

When confronted with the unavoidable difficulties (like resistance, disagreement, lack of progress etc.) during change processes, leaders exercise one of the following reactions:

  1. Autocratic leaders will react with a”my way or the high-way” response: “This is a workplace, we have rules that everybody has to obey. We have now changed the rules. If somebody does not like it, there’s the door…!
  2. There are some leaders, we call them the “Natural Emphatic“-s, who have a high level of sensitivity to people, high EQ, they will address the problems with immediate (instinctive) human interactions: listening and talking to the people who need to be listened and talked to. They prefer to put their personal emotional influence into action rather than the “nice but not too practical” models of change management.
  3. Change Expert“-s on the other hand, will refer immediately to what change management methodologies suggest. They might consult their books, refer back to their MBA studies or invite change consultants with whom they will analyze together the situation and come up with the best plan of action.
  4. Delegators” will be quick to unload the responsibilities for change difficulties to others. They will turn to HR and/or internal change managers (especially in bigger organizations) based on the idea that “this is an HR thing, anyway”, will give the job to change consultants to sort it out, will put it in the hands of middle managers, and will place the responsibility in general on people’s shoulders: “you should stop being so negative!”
  5. Resistance Manager“-s will be ignited into action when they feel resistance from a certain group of people. They pride themselves in being able to solve problems effectively, so they will tackle the situation with a combination efforts: a new persuasive speech to the people, a new wave of understanding people’s problems, promising something new etc. Resistance management can also be put at the focus of change management activities in an organization with the notion that: “We should expect and prepare for resistance. Our job is to manage resistance when it comes…”
  6. Change Leader“-s will apply the best combination of sensing what people need and understanding what are the best tools to support and engage them. They will assume full responsibility for the success of a change process and will consider their task to proactively create the right conditions for change.

Of the six typical behaviors, the two most common are the “Resistance Manager” and the “Delegator”. In this article we are going to focus on the first one, which leads us back to our original topic:

The need to move from ‘resistance management’ to change leadership

The main difference between resistance management and change leadership is in their core beliefs about the role of change management:

There are some widely used, well-known change management methodologies (e.g. Prosci) that promote the use of resistance management approaches, even going as far as suggesting how to select the right ‘resistance managers’. My experience and research results strongly suggest that these resistance management approaches – although developed and distributed with very positive intentions – create mindsets that limit an organizations’ overall change capability. Here are the most important reasons WHY:

  • YOU GET WHAT YOU EXPECT: The way companies look at change and change management can create “self-fulfilling prophecies”. If you expect resistance, you will get resistance. If we set the minds of management and the organization on resistance, then this will work as a negative self-fulfilling prophecy (also called in psychology the ‚Golem effect’): you expect resistance and negative attitude from people, therefore resistance will be even stronger, which will just confirm your belief of resistance and the negative spiral continues. Change leaders on the other hand can create a positive, “Pygmalion effect”, which means that people will feel positive expectations and – although change will always create difficulties, – they will more readily cooperate and be open to recognize how a change initiative can bring progress and how they can realize their own motivations with it. Of course, to make this happen, leaders have to take the right change leadership actions.
  • REACTIVE vs PROACTIVE. “Resistance managers” operate in a reactive mode: they will rather respond to emerging difficult situations than take the proactive measures to create the right conditions for change. Although resistance management can also be effective in solving certain situations, it is accepted much better by people if proactive actions are taken by management to prepare for and support the change process.
  • FROM PROBLEMS TO SOLUTIONS: The two approaches will ignite very different change management interactions in the organizations. Once I have observed a change management workshop which was meant to manage resistance. The facilitators asked the participants to work in groups and identify the main obstacles they see for the change that was under introduction. The result was that the participants managed to collect a long and creative list of arguments WHY the change should NOT be introduced, and managed to convince themselves that it was not a got idea to proceed. Don’t get me wrong: I think it is important to let people articulate their concerns and be listened to. But this should be just to set the emotional ground before turning towards solutions: how we can all benefit from this change and how can we make it happen?Change leaders will have the sensitivity to turn to people with empathy in such situation, but will also have the ability to coach them towards common solutions.



  • Move away from the “resistance focused” approaches and embrace more the solution focused change leadership methodologies.
  • Promote a well balanced mindset about change and change management: create awareness about the difficulties of change, but more importantly create the mindset that people like progress, like to change things to the better, and that the role of change management is to create the right conditions for it to happen.


  • REFLECT: From the six reactions of leaders described above, which one is most typical to you? Why is this so? What do you need to change/improve to become more a change leader?
  • CHECK YOUR BELIEFS AND MINDSET: Do you believe in the following statement? “Although change is difficult for people, they like progress and have a general desire to change things to the better. People like to do, explore and create new things, therefore my task as their leader is to create the right conditions in which their own motivations and desire to progress will result in change. When I see resistance from anybody, it means that I have failed to create the right conditions for them, so I have to do something differently.” If you agree, think about what you need to do to make sure that you put it in practice? If you do not agree, think about which points you disagree with and why?
  • IMPROVE SENSING ABILITY: Individual sensing ability is driven by a leader’s EQ, more specifically, her/his social awareness (empathy and organizational awareness) competence, which is not easy to improve short term. And if you are leading a big organization, it is almost impossible to sense what everybody feels and needs. However, there are ways to increase your overall sensing ability: First of all, simply pay more attention to it, put it higher on your agenda. Secondly, you can rely on the common sensing ability of your team. Discuss regularly, especially in difficult change processes how are your teams, what is the common sentiment and narrative in the organization. And thirdly, use “sensing mechanisms”, surveys (qualitative and quantitative) on a regular basis.
  • IMPROVE UNDERSTANDING OF CHANGE LEADERSHIP TOOLS: (I will provide further inputs to this one in the upcoming articles 🙂