5 Ways Leaders Can Overcome Resistance To Change, Growth & Opportunity
There is a secret to professional and team performance (and fulfilment) that few people know about. There is a hidden block to success and results that blocks change, opportunity and growth, and it lies within what we tell ourselves.
Resistance is Futile
How often do you people in your teams use phrases like the ones below? It can be hard to know exactly because they are not always said out loud, but frequently within our own minds:
As master practitioners of Neuro Linguistic Programming, we can confirm that these types of thought patterns are strongly held and very, very common. They don’t always manifest in big, obvious ways but rather bit-by-bit, on a subconscious level, their effect ripples out into the greater picture and until a light is shone on it. Most of us are completely unaware that these automated thought patterns are happening, never mind the effect they have on the results and experiences we have - or miss.
More often than not, people show this subconscious resistance to something so many times they accept it as fact.
You know this, you've seen it play out in front of you (or perhaps even in your own mind). Just one example is how frequently people casually put themselves down. This alone can damage self-esteem and self-motivation and sometimes, seemingly harmless, unconscious resistance evolves into something greater:
“I’m not good at maths.” becomes “There’s no point applying for that job, I can’t do spreadsheets.”
“I can’t do techy stuff” becomes “I’m not going up for the promotion, I don't have the tech skills.”
“I’m too shy to share my true opinions” becomes “Looks good to me, go ahead and send it to the client.”
All of a sudden, this resistance (or avoidance) is making some important decisions both in our lives and within our teams and businesses companies, impacting both the day-to-day and critical outcomes. This is why resistance is futile. It doesn't get anyone, anywhere.
In leadership, your role is to keep everyone focused, on-track with delivery and enthusiastic, efficient and open to growth.
How then do you tackle resistance in your teams, developing individuals to overcome blocks for improved individual, team and business results?
Here are 5 personal development steps to help lead your team past unconscious performance blocks:
Once you recognise the language patterns that are putting blocks between the person speaking and what they want, e.g. 'I can't', (or any of the examples above), you'll start to notice the language appearing in meetings, one-to-ones or around the office. Be curious. Ask yourself, why are they saying that? If necessary, when in a one-to-one conversation, take the opportunity to find out more about the block. A good question to ask is:
"I noticed you said...So, what's behind that?"
This helps you as a leader to start uncovering what's underneath surface-level comment and truly driving that individuals actions. Remember, it's common that people would actually like to feel they 'can', that they're great at something, or that an opportunity could be theirs. Just asking the question could highlight to them where they are stopping themselves as they might not even have noticed they say it.
Inner resistance can come from a few places. Two of the common sources of resistance are found in our personal values and beliefs. This is where we decide what’s important to us and what we're capable of doing and therefore our perception of success or failure. If as a leader you can help your team member work towards something that truly matters to them you can help them move towards success and away from failure.
The thing that keeps you and your team members focused and heading towards success, is clarity about the direction of travel. If there is a conflict in direction, it is much harder to gain momentum. When you've become aware of a 'resistance' can you identify any conflict in direction alongside it? How can you help them resolve it to help them go with the direction of travel rather than resist it?
Resistance is part of being human, simply because change exists. We're wired to recognise risk and to think twice about it. See it for what it is, embrace it and allow the resistance a little space to occupy. You don’t have to go into battle. By creating space you can start to see the whole landscape and the paths across it.
There is a trick in meditation that is helpful when applied here. It’s common for people to say they ‘can’t meditate’. It’s too hard, if not impossible, to think of absolutely nothing, right? This is because when we attempt to resist our thoughts, they seem to get bigger. The mind is pulling in two directions, looking at both the thought and the intention of being clear.
The key to meditation is to shift into a mind that is simply an observer of thoughts.
Generally, we tend to exist believing we are our thoughts. They come to the forefront first, our emotions shaping each one. It’s possible, however, step above and to observe thoughts, instead of swimming in them.
When we stop trying to 'shush’ our minds and instead allow the thoughts to flow in and out as things we are observing, we find ease. By meditating this way, we take the resistance out and instead just watch what we’re thinking about - without being active in it. We can see the bigger picture and probably, alternative solutions we never saw before.
"Of course, you can't force your mind to be silent. That would be like trying to smooth ripples in water with a flat iron. Water becomes clear and calm only when left alone."
- Alan Watts
When we apply that same principle back to resistance in other areas of our lives, the result is the same (I mean, the thoughts are at the centre of it, aren't they?). The presence of resistance does not mean the absence of solutions. If a problem exists, ergo a solution must too. We can create the space needed to look for a way past it.
3. Keep your focus
Remember in point one where we said the power was in what you want to be moving 'towards'? Focus is the key to breaking boundaries that you never thought could be crossed. This is key for you as a leader, just as much for your team. When you know where you want to go, so the oh-so-brilliant mind will find solutions for you as you take each step towards what you want, need or are trying to achieve.
Keep your focus and intention on what you DO want and not what you don't.
In our 21st century, social media-driven world, we've come to expect that results should be instantaneous. When you're setting change in motion, there will be resistance to move past and it will take patience, focus, consistency and time.
This is something you practice and get better at. Create a team culture where everyone stays open to the ways around it, observe when things work and learn when things don’t go as planned. Keep adjusting your sails. Where attention goes, energy flows so create a team culture where quizzical minds focus on what's possible, rather than with what's not.
As a leader, encourage your team (and yourself!) to have a pioneering spirit. Can't see how you can, where the next turn lies in the road or the solution you're looking for? Explore, take a wide angle lens, purposefully look from new angles and perspectives that others might have and look again. There are often resources and ideas all around us.
When you start to tackle resistance generated by the blocks that have been holding you back, it can feel like climbing a mountain. So what do we do when we take on a mountain? Prepare.
Ask yourself: What resources do I have?
What will I need? How much time is it going to take? What obstacles should I prepare for? What do I have to do to be ready for this? Shall I go alone?
Consider everything, seek out what or who will be helpful, find ways to make it manageable, or who could help you with the things you don't already know.
As a leader, there is opportunity here to assist an employee who might be struggling with resistance, not knowing how to achieve a set task or target. Get curious. How can you help them see resources where they do not? Explore with them, help them look in other directions and ask them questions that dig deeper (the why's, how's and what if's).
"What's underneath that?"
An open, curious conversation helps develop trust between you as a manager and your team member. By being curious you can help them to find the solutions that help them find their own solutions about how they can move past this obstacle; and we all know there is nothing better, nothing more empowering, than your own Eureka moment rather than being told what you should do. Discovering the way to break through your own challenges helps makes you feel resourceful, more confident, motivated and excited to go to the next step.
5. Take a moment
Have you ever been intently looking for something and not been able to find it? Then it turns out that the thing you were looking for was pretty blatantly on display, but you just couldn’t see it?
We can more easily achieve goals when we are not experiencing the blocks of frustration, disappointment, stress and pressure. All these blocks come from the thought patterns we're allowing our minds to follow. When any of us (leader or team member) allow ourselves to follow these negative thought patterns and the feelings they ignite, it creates yet more friction that you have to push even harder against to get anywhere. There is no need to hold on tightly to it, acknowledge it, take a moment then let it pass. That way, you won’t get stuck at the brick wall, banging your head up against it.
How to help teams break through unconscious limitations
You can go on courses and learn the skillsets to do the job but it doesn't deal with the subconscious mindsets, habits and beliefs that stop you from taking the kind of action that delivers results for the organisation or for yourself as an individual. Mindset is equally as important as skillset (actually, we'd argue more so). When people master their minds, they can achieve anything and Life Ladder was developed to enable employees across all levels of a business become high performers because they learn to adopt growth and success mindsets, self-leadership and better communication and collaboration by managing their minds and their behaviours. Through an ongoing, e-learning, professional development journey underpinned by our 7-Step Subconscious Catalyst System, managing the mind becomes a daily part of life, as does success and happiness. Resistance is no longer futile, it just no longer exists.
“Life Ladder plants seeds of belief within people, it shows them that they are truly capable of moving past their resistance. With attention and care, these seeds bloom into a garden, bearing the fruits of ease, happiness and success.”
- Natalie Rae, Founder, Life Ladder