Why Real Leaders Embrace Resistance

A resistor is an electronic device that resists an electric current.

Know what happens when you try to push too much current through a resistor?

It burns out.

The same thing happens when you try to overcome resistance to change by pushing people through it—and the results can be catastrophic.

General Patton famously said, “You drive cattle. You lead people.” The more you try to drive cattle, the more they try to push back. They slow down. They continually try to go in another direction.

At no time is this truer than when you’re trying to push through a change.

Assuming a reasonably healthy and positive culture, resistance is an important signal. It warns us of the potential negative impacts of the change we’re trying to implement. The result is often that the gains from a particular change may be offset by a drop in production, when people fail to perform to standards because their lives are disrupted.

One of the most popular strategies managers employ is attempting to get “buy-in.” But if you’ve got to try to sell a change, you’ve missed a vital step.

The earlier you involve people in any change process, and the more input they have in that process, the more likely they are to not only support the change, but also identify flaws in the plan.

More than anything else, people support change when they respect and trust their leaders. To earn respect, trust and loyalty, you have to extend it. The leader goes first!

Whenever change is necessary, therein lies a tremendous opportunity to:

  • Engage people in the process of change, early and often.
  • Involve organic leaders at all levels. You’ll find some your best leaders on the front lines.
  • Show that you value their knowledge, experience, wisdom and input.
  • Demonstrate your trust in them by sharing responsibility for implementation and for creative course adjustment through the process.
  • Practice active compassion. Express genuine interest in how this change will affect your people’s lives, job performance, personal fulfillment, career ambitions and relationships within the organization.

To address whatever resistance still remains after that, a leader must understand the resistance and respond to concerns with respect—and sincere attention.

Jim Bouchard is an international corporate and conference speaker, leadership expert and author of “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.”



Try to motivate people to accept a change with bribes or threats.

Inspire people by appealing to their emotional and intellectual interests.

Delegate by simply assigning tasks to implement the change.

Empower people so they can participate fully and meaningfully in the change.

Try to drive or push the change through at all costs.

Guide people through the change, creating a successful outcome for everyone involved. —J.B.