Leading the Threat of Change


Change: Improvement or loss?

Choosing not to change risks failing if change is understood as improvement [1]. In organizations, mainly the investors, but also drivers like competition, globalization, technology, and employees require change [2]. Change always signifies loss that prompts threatening emotions, which cause resistance. Therefore, resistance to change needs to be understood from an individual’s emotional perspective [3]. For example, people mostly don’t alter their change decisions related to moral dilemmas solely based on reason [4]. Often, leaders and managers have a better understanding of the organizational situation than of individuals [5]. Change antecedents, reactions to and consequences from changes like, for example, organizational commitment and job satisfaction, have to be carefully considered. Commitment can positively correlate with a favorable perception of proposed change, while commitment to the status quo can be negatively related [6].

Personality differences in predispositions to resist change

Helping conquering limitations in improving is a core function of leadership, and it is relieving for people to feel understood in their resistance to change [7]. Indeed, supervisory support is a key factor in positively influencing people’s commitment to change [8]. However, there might also be personality differences in predispositions, i.e., having negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards organizational change [9]. It is more difficult to positively influence job satisfaction for people characterized by lower levels of openness to change [10]. Increased mindfulness (i.e., engagement in new and healthy thoughts and habits) and tolerance of ambiguity (i.e., tolerance of lack of clarity and uncertainty) predict a more positive attitude toward change [1].

Trust and authenticity in transformational leadership

Change follows a process [11], most simply described as ‘unfreeze,’ ‘mobilize,’ and ‘re-freeze’ [2]. To help people through these phases, understanding their emotional and intellectual needs seems to be essential. Transformational leadership ought to consist of these qualities, but some researchers suggest a broader integration of leadership dimensions, including spiritual elements to bridge the gap between profit strategies and quality of life [12]. Studies found that transformational leadership, regardless of the leaders’ behavior, was positively associated with promoting acceptance of change. Even change-specific leadership behavior could not compensate for transformational leadership, especially when there was a lot at stake personally for the change receivers. A history of long-term trustful relationships with their followers may be the reason for this as consistent research of authenticity in leadership evidenced too. In cases where the job impact of the change was low, rather than transformational leadership, proper change management practices were sufficient for effective change. This finding speaks for a close integration of the change leadership and change management disciplines [13]

We change for what we have chosen for ourselves

Resistance can be a capacity for change itself [14], sometimes coming from positive intentions too [15], and providing feedback from people who may know best about the day-to-day operational details [16]. To support effective change, leadership should involve change-related training [17], possibly also in early developmentally sensitive school years [18]. It is crucial to help individuals experiencing close and successful participation in the change process [19] because people are more likely to adapt what they have chosen for themselves [20].

Photo credit: Geralt (pixabay.com)


[1] Dunican, B., & Keaster, R. (2015). ACCEPTANCE OF CHANGE: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG PSYCHOMETRIC CONSTRUCTS AND EMPLOYEE RESISTANCE. International Journal Of The Academic Business World, 9(2), 27-38.

[2] Higgs, M. (n.d.). Change and its leadership. [Video]. Retrieved February 10, 2018 from http://hstalks.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/main/view_talk.php?t=1104&r=396&c=250

[3] Bailey, J. R., & Raelin, J. D. (2015). Organizations Don’t Resist Change, People Do: Modeling Individual Reactions to Organizational Change Through Loss and Terror Management. Organization Management Journal (Routledge), 12(3), 125-138. doi:10.1080/15416518.2015.1039637

[4] Stanley, M. L., Dougherty, A. M., Yang, B. W., Henne, P., & De Brigard, F. (2017). Reasons Probably Won’t Change Your Mind: The Role of Reasons in Revising Moral Decisions. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, doi:10.1037/xge0000368

[5] Clarke, H. (2013). Context, Communication and Commiseration: Psychological and Practical Considerations in Change Management. Perspectives: Policy And Practice In Higher Education, 17(1), 30-36.

[6] Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change: A 60-year review of quantitative studies. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(4), 461-524.

[7] Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2001). The Real Reason People Won’t Change. Harvard Business Review, 79(10), 84-92.

[8] Jaros, S. (2010). Commitment to organizational change: A critical review. Journal of Change Management, 10(1), 79-108.

[9] Erwin, D. G., & Garman, A. N. (2010). Resistance to organizational change: Linking research and practice. Leadership & Organization Development Journal31(1), 39-56.

[10] Hinduan, Z., Wilson-Evered, E., Moss, S., & Scanell, E. (2009). Leadership, work outcomes and openness to change following an Indonesian bank merger. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 47(1), 59-78.

[11] Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, (March-April), reprint No: 95284.

[12] Gill, R. (2002). Change management or change leadership? Journal of Change Management, 3(4), 307-318.

[13] Herold, D. M., Fedor, D. B., Caldwell, S., Liu, Y. (2008). The effects of transformational and change leadership on employees’ commitment to a change: A multilevel study. Journal of Applied Psychology93(2), 346-357.

[14] Ford, J. D., Ford, L. W., & D’Amelio, A. (2008). Resistance to change: The rest of the story. Academy of Management Review, 24, 274-288.

[15] Clayton, M. (2016). RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. Training Journal, 16.

[16] Ford, J. D., & Ford, L. W. (2009). Decoding Resistance to Change. Harvard Business Review, 87(4), 99-103.

[17] Whelan-Berry, K., & Somerville, K. (2010). Linking Change Drivers and the Organizational Change Process: A Review and Synthesis. Journal of Change Management, (2). 175.

[18] Haig, E. L., & Woodcock, K. A. (2017). Rigidity in routines and the development of resistance to change in individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome. Journal Of Intellectual Disability Research, 61(5), 488-500.

[19] Choi, M. (2011). Employees’ attitudes toward organizational change: A literature review. Human Resource Management, 50(4), 479-500. doi:10.1002/hrm.20434

[20] Kettleborough, J. (2014). Time to change the way we change. Training Journal, 60-63.

About mathias sager

Independent researcher, artist, social entrepreneur, and leadership and strategy advisor I was born in Zurich in 1975 and grew up in Switzerland. Currently, I’m living in Tokyo. I love open-minded people everywhere and the passion to working relentlessly for developing human potential, which is an overarching theme throughout all his work. I have extensive experience in leadership and management, organizational psychology research, and learning & development practice. I have worked as a teacher, a leadership trainer, as well as a senior manager responsible for client relationships, counseling, and virtual teams around the world. Also, I’m a social entrepreneur and serving as a strategy and leadership advisor in different ways. My goal is to inspire with interdisciplinary, innovative, and cross-cultural approaches to personal and professional development for the people’s individual well-being and common good alike. Continuously learning himself and keen to help, I appreciate any questions or feedback you may have at any time. Please connect here on any social media, as well as per direct email goodthings@mathias-sager.com.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Leading the Threat of Change

  1. SonniQ says:

    I have always been open to change – to see where it takes me. Many people are afraid of change or they wonder what other people will say. I have a motto I have lived my life by. If you don’t like what I’m doing, don’t watch me do it!” Life is to be lived fully until you can’t live it anymore.

    • mathias sager says:

      A nice motto of yours! It’s great to have the self-confidence to be independent (while still open as helpful) of others opinion. Fearful people propagate consistency, but one who is continuously learning is most likely also changing as a result. It would be strange to be the same person with 40 as with 20, no?:-)

      • SonniQ says:

        Let’s try 63 and 20. I have always documented my life. Journals before blogging. I had not reread early journals until was about 50. Wow. I have always felt like same person but when read my thoughts and decision making could understand the immaturity. At the time I saw myself as an adult. My actions said otherwise. Just because the youth is tall as an adult their thinking has no wisdom. It was interesting to watch myself grow up on the pages.

      • mathias sager says:

        Ah, interesting! Nice observation.
        The years between realized and recognized change could be a measure of how intensively we implement lessons learned and reflections on required adaptations to continuously personally grow. Ideally, we are aware of change more frequently. I don’t mean that we change our whole and deepest personality, but the less innate and circumstantial ones probably, like, for example, bad habits:-).
        Thank you for the discussion! Take care.

      • SonniQ says:

        I have always been fascinated by life. What makes it with. How does change affect it. We have more control over how our lives goes than most think. But if you ask as unseen entity to change things for you you don’t think along the lines of cause and effect. People pray, Maybe, and hold out an empty plate and wait for cookies to fall on it through no effort of their own. I wish it were That easy but it isn’t. WE have to make our world go round.

      • mathias sager says:

        Well said, thank you! And also, not seeing and expecting everything physical, but “energetic” may relief the urge to control and opens up a whole new world of possibilities! Take care

  2. This picture is so nice to look at. Also, I must admit I hate change but I sometimes love change. I wish my mother would read this article. Definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over with the same results. I think if everyone could be comfortably crazy they would be. ha

    • mathias sager says:

      Hi. Thanks for your nice feedback and interesting comment. I think too there is a positive aspect of craziness:-), as you mention, allowing change outside of one’s comfort zone. Thanks and all the best!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.