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5 Times Change is Hardest to Lead

Change is hard – almost always. Sometimes change is harder than other times. And, it’s then where leadership is tested most, tensions mount and people are more likely to object.

In my experience, if a leader knows these times it helps prepare to approach the change.

Change is necessary. While change may produce conflict, without change there will also be conflict. When people sit still – when growth stalls – people complain. A very seasoned leader friend of mine says, “Two things I guarantee. People are going to complain about change. And, people are going to complain if things remain the same.”

Therefore, since change is necessary and inevitable, understanding these scenarios – before we attempt change – may help us lead change better.

Here are 5 times I’ve discovered that change is hardest to accept and implement:

When there hasn’t been any change in a very long time.

Change becomes more comfortable when it occurs regularly. When nothing has changed for a period of time, people feel even more uncomfortable and are likely to resist more.

Leaders in this scenario should make smaller changes to get small wins to hopefully spur hunger for more change – or at least stretch the comfort level for change again. Ease into it.

When there isn’t a culture for change.

Sometimes people are conditioned against change. Imagine a work environment where everyone wears the same colored pants and shirt every day – maybe black pants and white shirt uniforms. Remember IBM? I was raised to believe they had “uniforms” of black suits and white shirts. Since then I’ve read that they never had a policy of a strict dress code. It just sprang up as culture. I also read that changing the IBM culture took years.

Now obviously that was more of a style culture than a change culture, but when any culture is sameness leaders often have to address culture before they address change.

When the vision for change isn’t abundantly clear.

Of course, people will not always agree with a change even if it is clear to them. Some people never agree with change – any change. But, when people can’t seem to grasp a compelling reason for the change, opposition is more likely to occur.

Good leaders help people understand the why behind the change as much as possible. Pastors who lead change well use their “best sermons” to cast vision for change. It would be better to over communicate than under communicate.

When there isn’t an obvious or capable person to cast the vision and lead the change.

People follow leaders they trust. It is vital when implementing change that a leader be in place who can carry the charge for the change.

In cases where there is not a clear person to own the vision of change, I usually back away from the change until the leader is in place.

When the risk seems bigger than the potential return.

By definition, faith moves us into the unknown. When we can’t discern the return on the risk we are more likely to object. While this needs to be understood, it should also be understood that anything of value requires risk. Obedience to God requires faith. Every time. So the greatest things we can achieve in life will almost always appear to have bigger risk than the return we can see in the beginning.

Good leaders challenge people beyond their level of comfort. Leadership is the tension between the comfort of where we are and the potential of where we could be.

Again, none of these are reasons not to change, but understanding these can certainly help us better navigate through change.

What other reasons have you noticed that make change especially difficult?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • @StevePerky says:

    Ron, this is a great list. Thanks for sharing.

    Vision and vision casting are instrumental though the entire process. Implementing too much change at once or in a short amount of time also tends to cause resistance.

  • sdunnpastor says:

    I work as an Intentional Interim Pastor and also as a consultant/trainer for churches that want to shift from an inward to an outward focus and found your five observations very, very helpful.

  • kmac4him

    When Martha is changing things up in that crazy way of hers by pushing forward her own agenda and Mary does not get to sit at the feet of Jesus because Martha has to impress Jesus with “doings” He has not asked to be impressed with, then Mary’s “being” suffers! This is difficult change! Motive?! Is change happening because of the “human condition” or is change happening because of followship? Both have consequences. One is eternal the other is exhaustion!