Inclusive leadership leading through change during a business transformation

From Resistance to Resilience: Leading Effectively Through Change

In today’s dynamic business landscape, change is not merely an option but an imperative for organizational growth and adaptation. The ever-evolving market demands, technological advancements, evolving regulatory policies, and shifting consumer preferences necessitate that businesses remain agile and responsive, and many implement business transformation initiatives to better position them for a brighter and more competitive future. According to KPMG’s Global Transformation Study, 96% of organizations are in some phase of transformation, and nearly half have completed at least one transformation initiative in the past 2 years. 


However, these initiatives also bring with them a daunting challenge. According to a study by McKinsey, a staggering 70% of all change initiatives fail to achieve their objectives. When change initiatives in the workplace have a historically low success rate, what can organizations do to help theirs succeed? Amidst this discouraging backdrop, one consistent factor emerges as a beacon of hope: strong, supportive, and committed leadership can significantly improve an organization’s chances of orchestrating a successful change initiative. Let’s take a look at the factors that impact leadership’s ability to guide their teams through transformation to emerge as a high-performance workforce.


Understanding Rational Resistance to Change

Our natural inclination toward homeostasis, the body’s tendency to maintain stability, often clashes with the prospect of change. This resistance to change is rooted in our brain’s amygdala, which interprets any deviation from the status quo as a potential threat. Essentially, our own minds, in their quest to protect us, can inadvertently hinder our acceptance of change by signaling fear, fight, or flight responses. Understanding this innate response is crucial in recognizing why change can be met with resistance and in developing strategies to navigate it effectively.


Common Reasons People Resist Change

During a business transformation, no matter if the proposed change is as disruptive as a merger or as mild as implementing new leadership development programs, employees will likely view it with suspicion and skepticism at the start. Let’s explore why:


Fear of the Unknown or Perceived Risk

Change often ushers in uncertainty, and the natural fear of the unknown can be a powerful motivator for resistance. This is often compounded by perceived risks, such as the fear of losing one’s job or the fear of being incompetent in the face of new challenges. People tend to resist change as a self-preservation mechanism, opting to stay within their comfort zones even if those zones are less than ideal rather than growing into a high-performance workforce.


Organizational Culture Issues

The prevailing culture within an organization can either foster or impede change. When employees lack trust in the organization’s ability to successfully implement a change, they may view the change as an instance of top-down decision-making without regard for their input or concerns, leading to heightened resistance and skepticism. 


This distrust can stem from past experiences of poorly managed changes or a perception that the organization prioritizes its own interests over employee well-being. Addressing these cultural issues through leadership development programs and building trust is essential for fostering a more receptive environment for change and a high-performance workforce.


Lack of Awareness and Knowledge About the Business Transformation Initiative

Sometimes, resistance to change arises simply because individuals do not fully understand what the change entails. When employees are uninformed or poorly educated about the change, it breeds fear and uncertainty. Without a clear understanding of the change’s purpose, expected outcomes, and how it aligns with the organization’s goals, employees may perceive it as a threat rather than an opportunity for growth.


Lack of Support and Commitment to Change Management

Effective change management requires more than just a well-crafted plan; it necessitates unwavering support and commitment from leadership. When employees perceive a lack of genuine buy-in from top management, their confidence in the change’s success dwindles. This can lead to a lack of motivation to embrace the change, as they question its importance, the organization’s dedication to its implementation, and the methodology chosen to develop a high-performance workforce.


Misalignment of Project Goals and Personal Incentives

Resistance can emerge when employees perceive a disconnect between the business transformation initiative’s goals and their own motivations. In some cases, employees may believe that the change does not align with their individual aspirations, incentives, and career development goals, or that it could even hinder their upward progress. For instance, employees interested in partaking in your company’s existing leadership development programs may be resistant to any significant changes to those programs, particularly if those changes make them harder to access. Consequently, they resist the change to safeguard their interests, even though it may offer broader benefits to the organization.


Loss of Peer Support System

The loss of a peer support system can be a significant driver of resistance to change. When colleagues share similar concerns and uncertainties, they often lean on each other for support and advice. Peer support can be a vital source of assistance, encouragement, and shared experiences. 


In the absence of this support network, employees may resist a business transformation initiative as they lack the camaraderie and collective reassurance that come from navigating new challenges together. Leadership development programs, like Achieve’s Leadership Advantage, can help leaders learn to build a high-performance workforce that has resilience, innovation, and an openness to change built into the company culture.


Bad Timing

Timing is critical for the success of any change initiative, and implementing change during periods of high stress or instability can worsen resistance. Employees may already be grappling with personal or professional stressors, making them less receptive to additional changes. If the timing seems ill-suited, it can disrupt the delicate balance of employee well-being and work performance, leading to heightened resistance. Leaders should consider the timing of their initiatives carefully, taking into account both internal and external factors that might impact employees’ readiness for change.


For Leaders: Lack of Confidence in Their Ability to Lead Through Change

Leaders themselves may experience resistance if they lack confidence in their ability to navigate change successfully. Leading through change can be a daunting task, and self-doubt can hinder a leader’s effectiveness. It’s essential for leaders to recognize and address their own concerns and seek support when needed through leadership development programs, change management training, or other executive development tools. When leaders lead with confidence, they inspire confidence in their teams, making it easier for everyone to embrace the change and become a true high-performance workforce.


How Strong Leaders Contribute to the Success of a Business Transformation Initiative

Leadership is the make-or-break element of a successful organizational change initiative — which means it can be the most impactful source of resistance. According to the Harvard Business Review, leaders can subconsciously disengage or resist their own change initiative due to the stress of bearing responsibility for its success, an unwillingness to relinquish aspects of control, and a fear of failure. 


On the other hand, leaders also set the tone for the transition. If they aren’t engaged, their teams will not be either, but if they commit to the change, offer support and guidance to their teams, and apply the concepts of the Achieve System™ and its associated leadership development programs, they can lead their teams smoothly and cohesively through the change initiative and beyond.


So how can leaders put their apprehension aside and successfully guide their teams through the transition?


What Leaders Can Do

Now that we understand the pivotal role of leaders in change management, let’s explore concrete steps and strategies that can help lead to a successful business transformation.


Embrace the Opportunity to Grow Into a High-Performance Workforce

Change isn’t just an upheaval; it’s an opportunity to expand the capacities of the whole team. During times of change, most people find themselves working at the edge of their capacity. As they grow into their new situation, that edge becomes more central to their skillset, and the true edge of their capabilities extends further. 


Leading by example is a hallmark of strong leadership during change. When leaders exhibit enthusiasm and commitment to the change initiative, they inspire and set the tone for the entire organization. Their actions validate the change’s importance and signal that everyone is on the same journey together.


Practice Performance Awareness

Performance awareness, a specialized type of self-awareness, is the ability to understand your emotions, the impact they have on your performance, and how they affect others. A healthy sense of performance awareness helps leaders pick up on potential sticking points before they become problems, closely and accurately monitor the performance of their team, and offer guidance tailored to the issue and individual at hand — all of which are invaluable when it comes to leadership during a change initiative.


Commit to Transparent Communication

First and foremost, effective leaders provide clarity of vision. They articulate why the change is necessary, how it aligns with the organization’s goals, and what the expected benefits are. Effective communication of this vision is a crucial aspect of leading through change. Leaders not only need to convey the rationale behind the change but also ensure that information is consistently shared, accessible, and transparent. Open dialogue with employees, active listening to their concerns, and addressing them empathetically create an atmosphere of trust, where employees feel valued and engaged — a crucial step to building a high-performance workforce.


Explore Change Management and Leadership Development Programs

Now, if your organization is seeking to enhance its leadership capabilities to drive a successful business transformation initiative, consider the Achieve Institute’s leadership development programs. Our programs are designed to empower leaders to lead effectively through change, fostering a culture of innovation and adaptability. With the Achieve System™ powering your high-performance journey, your organization can harness the full potential of its leaders and navigate change with confidence and success. Reach out to the Achieve Institute™ today to take the first step.

Take the next step toward high performance.

1100 King Street, Suite 110

Rye Brook, NY 10573

Phone: +1 (310) 664-9400


Skip to content