When it comes to change, the first step a leader needs to take is increased self-awareness. When you give someone quality attention, regardless of possible conflicting viewpoints, you give value to that person or group and their thinking improves exponentially. When people feel respected and heard they are less likely to have a resistance to change and are more open to others’ points of view,  and more willing to start a process of creating new patterns and behaviours.

Here are 7 important steps to embrace change as a leader:

  1. Ask yourself: ‘What am I resisting?’

    Be specific and honest with yourself, choosing to focus on the things you can control.

  2. Realise you don’t fear change, you fear loss

    Change is a situational event, like losing one’s job or gaining a new boss. Resistance occurs during the transition, a psychological process of acknowledging what is ending, navigating the uncertainty, then embracing what is possible in the new beginning. Make use of your support networks to help you through the process.

  3. Consider the upside

    It’s normal to feel a degree of fear during a big change, but fear can limit your ability to reason. Instead of asking yourself, ‘What can go wrong?’, ask yourself, ‘What can go right?’

  4. Choose to believe change serves you

    When you choose your perspective, you can easily rewire your internal system around change. Start choosing to believe change is something that serves you. For example, you can choose to believe ‘Change is easy,’ ‘Change is fun’ or ‘Change brings me amazing opportunities’.

  5. Consider change management as a career-defining soft skill

    Be a champion of change. While most resist change, you decide to be an active participant in it. Understanding the what, how and why will help you learn a valuable soft-skill.

  6. Learn to be more open and flexible

    Change is one of the natural flows of life that occurs often, even when we don’t want it to. Being open and flexible to change helps you to rewire your approach by actively embracing change versus trying to control it.

  7. Consult a mentor or coach

    A leadership coach offers outside intervention to ensure your accountability and provides the help you need to accept reality with productive action and behaviours. Hanging onto the past and denying change doesn’t stop it from taking place. Top leaders hire mentors and coaches, if you’d like to discuss leadership coaching, contact me today.

Also read: What is a coach and do I need one?

Case study – Meet Johan*

One of the graduates I met fairly recently while teaching on a Master’s degree in Management Coaching was an accomplished businessman who had had a near-death experience. Johan, by his own admission, had an authoritarian leadership style – very driven, with a harsh indifference to his impact on others. In fact, he would eagerly describe the pleasure he had taken in humiliating employees, driving staff – and even members of his family – to the limits of their endurance. His focus, he argued, was on the bottom-line, measurable outputs and results.

Johan suffered a severe heart attack that left him with permanently limited energy. The slightest emotion or effort that elevated his pulse was immediately life-threatening. If he did not radically change his management style, his harsh authoritarian ways would, literally, kill him – not mention the collateral damage it was causing those around him.

In hospital, Johan had had time to reflect, especially on the kindness and love he had received, not just from family, but even employees who had cause to dislike him. He made the decision to learn to be a different kind of leader in whatever time he had left – to motivate people with calmness and kindness, instead of rage and abuse.

But change is hard. And our instinct, more often than not, is to resist it with all our might.

Despite enrolling in the management course, Johan found taking on a new leadership style a real battle. For the first six months, in spite of his complex health issues and his life being at risk, Johan kept reverting to his familiar patterns. He found it difficult to shake his impulsive, sarcastic, and often hurtful, wit.


What causes resistance to behaviour change?

Resistance to change is a combination of factors, not least deeply ingrained habits. Resistance to change is increased by threats to a familiar way of life or a particular way of understanding the world.  

Scientific studies explain that habits form neural pathways in our brain – literally physical tracks that make it quick and easy to behave in familiar ways. These neural pathways make it difficult to change habits, like smoking or behaviour patterns that threaten your very life. Sometimes, we have to slam into a brick wall many times before we finally are aware enough to find the door and move into a better way of doing things.

Neuroplasticity, the process of carving a new pathway in the brain and altering existing ones, is possible every day of our lives, but only with conscious awareness and actual daily practice.


Was Johan able to change?

With considerable struggle, continuous health shocks and constant feedback from his colleagues on the course, Johan’s behaviour did change. In spite of his often-unkind wit on the management coaching programme, Johan received positive feedback and supportive attention from his fellow-students – and most importantly, he felt he was seen and heard with empathy. What’s more, in his new career as a business coach, Johan is now receiving testimonials to his thoughtful care and concern; his family in particular were amazed at his transformation.

Leaders have to be the change they want to see in those around them

*fictitious name