Underlying reason of resistance to change – personality or leadership?

In this rapidly changing world, when companies still see change as a circumstance to be managed instead of a persistent occasion to develop their business, I would suggest them to rethink about achieving the beauty of a constant success.

In Bill Gates’ recent speak in TED, he expresses his concern on a global epidemic by saying that “There is no need to panic, but time is not on our side” (Lashinsky, 2015). Sanborn (2013) also states, the success in business is not simply about your ability to change but speed does matters too. Both statements suggest that the key to success for everyone and everything is that they have to change before they have to. If you are not fast enough, you are going to end up in the last place. Thus, changing is unquestionable and it is not a new word anymore. People should have used or must be used to changes, as the ability to change is the only security in today’s world. Status quo will only be exists if people are stop learning and sadly they stop growing.

In regards to change, Mullins (2010) defines, “It is all down to the personality of the individual and there is little management can do about resistance to change”. Do I agree with it? The answer is yes and no.

Resistance to change is always based on the culture of the organization and the individual basis. After spending time reading several articles regarding why corporations fail to change, I have come across to one major reason and it also refers to my disagreement on Mullin’s statement.

Structure of the organization

Simply engaging employees without empowering them is no longer the success of improving business performance like it used to be (Tobak, 2012). Without any empowerment, team working throughout the organization will never be exists too, not to mention each department per se.

Most executives nowadays still have the same mentality, I need them to do what “I” want, not what “we” want. In fact, they are afraid to lose their power to rule while actually the power of influence is way greater than that. Top management people are not always the smartest, by means of not fully aware of the day-to-day operational needs. Yet people on the bottom are scared to speak out their words or even unable to communicate it.

In many instances, it is because of the hierarchical structure. That structure often the most vulnerable structure towards change. Nevertheless, it does not mean that it never happen inside the organization that adopts flat or matrix structure. CEOs treat their employees as a robot, clearly defined responsibilities without their voices being considered or most times not even being heard.

In another words, they are limiting people’s development and wearing them down instead of empowering them. Sooner or later, they will either resist CEO’s decisions or doing it half-heartedly, which decreased the productivity. For example, Kraft used to have a very centralized decision-making approach. They even decided the price of coffee in Chicago, which later on being sold in Germany. How could they take a critical decision without having the knowledge of local market? Though, at the end, they delegated the decision-making to local subsidiaries, which increased the profit significantly (Khosla and Sawhney, 2014).

The circumstances above suggest that empowerment, participation and the different level of players in the process of creating changes also play a role in the resistance of change.


On the contrary, my agreement on Mullin’s statement is based on people’s psychological response. Basically, people always prefer stability and security emotionally, physically and financially. Their nature response of changes is likely to be the fear of unknown like what Mullin said in Gravenhorst (2003).

In term of social impact, you know how will people feel when they have established good relations with their colleague in the workplace and all of sudden they need to be separated. Naturally, they would feel threatened by the way in which it is introduced, no participation and security at all. Moreover, for some people changes can even cost them their jobs. Recently, Yahoo closed down its China office and cut down more than 300 jobs (Rein, 2015). One employee said that it was a real struggle, as they need to be separated with their colleague and they need to support their families too.

Therefore, in fact, change and resistance are in close association and not a cause and effect relationship. As Gravenhorst said, resistance to change is a too general term. Kotter (1996) also states, there is no inherent DNA prevents growth in people’s life. People do not simply resist because of their conservatism but also because of the process in which change being introduced. Lawrence (1969) once said, when resistance does appear, it can best be seen as a precaution that something is going wrong rather than something to be managed. In another words, “managing change is not enough – it has to be led and not to be ruled”.

Kotter’s 8-step model in Mindtools (2015) can be a useful guidance and not a definite way for leaders that want to implement change as it can be argued that there is a sense of personality absence in Kotter’s model.

Witnessing that, organization actually has quite a big control in managing resistance of changes because it is not solely down to people’s personality but also based on the organization as a whole. Thus, personality and leadership are intertwined. Nonetheless, as an individual, it is very important for them to have the mentality of lifelong learning. On the other hand, as a leader, it is very crucial to have the mentality of inspiring and influencing instead of ruling. Thus, the organization will not stop growing according to their tenure.

List of References:

  1. Gravenhorst, K, M, B (2003), A different view on Resistance to Change, [Online] available at <http://www.pluspulse.nl/pdf/EAWOP%20resistance.pdf > [29 March 2015]
  2. Khosla, S and Sawhney, M (2014), What Businesses Can Learn From Kraft Foods’ Decision To Delegate Authority, [Online] available at <http://www.fastcompany.com/3033772/the-future-of-work/what-businesses-can-learn-from-kraft-foods-decision-to-delegate-authority > [29 March 2015]
  3. Kotter, J, P (1996), Leading Change, Boston: Harvard Business School
  4. Lashinsky, A (2015), Bill Gates on a global epidemic: “Time is not on our side”, [Online] available at< http://fortune.com/2015/03/18/bill-gates-epidemic-ted/ > [6 April 2015]
  5. Lawrence, P, R, How to deal with resistance to change, [Online] available at <https://hbr.org/1969/01/how-to-deal-with-resistance-to-change > [29 March 2015]
  6. MindTools (2015), Kotter’s 8-step change model, [Online] available at <http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm > [29 March 2015]
  7. Rein, S (2015), Yahoo to shutter China office and cut “around 350” jobs, [Online] available at <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31957704 > [6 April 2015]
  8. Sanborn, M (2013), 4 Things you need to know about change, [Online] available at <http://www.marksanborn.com/blog/4-things-you-need-to-know-about-change/ > [28 March 2015]
  9. Tobak, S (2012), Don’t engage employees-empower them, [Online] available at <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dont-engage-employees-empower-them/ > [28 March 2015]

9 thoughts on “Underlying reason of resistance to change – personality or leadership?

  1. Karina Suryawinata says:

    Well said! I agree that the power of influence as a leader is supposed to be greater than the power to rule.


  2. Karina Suryawinata says:

    I have a question, what are your suggestions for this case:
    There is an employee who works as a marketing staff in a bank company. He has been struggling to keep up with the company system and he feels that his manager has been restraining his and his colleagues self development due to the indisposition of change or adaptation on the global situation.

    What do you think this employee should do to tackle the issue?


    • That is a great practical question to see this topic from a different angle, however we can approach this issue with the same manner. And my suggestion is still based on the Kotter’s framework to keep on giving a sense of urgency around the need of change and form a powerful coalition. Those are the basic two steps in initiating change. You can read thoroughly through this source for the whole discussion of the steps ( http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm ). I hope it’s answering your question


    • The reason is because hierarchical tends to rigidly following the rules which usually made by the leaders. In most cases, when changes are initiated within an organization, it means that they need to sack the leader too and of course most leaders do not like that. So hierarchical depends fully on the leaders, when resistance to change comes from the leader, it’s even more dangerous than the one that come from the employees.

      My other point is because in hierarchical organization, normally the way they introduce the change does not engage the employees from the beginning. They just simply implement it because the leaders tell to do so. Thus, the employees will be more reluctant to change.


  3. Yvonne says:

    Do you have any practical suggestion on how to have a lifelong learning mentality as I have been trying to have that but I have not managed to do so until now and I am tired of changing?


    • Tired of changing is the root of your failure. My suggestion is, first of all, you need to change your mindset. You need to embrace the changes instead of managing it. Second, you need to always see the good side of changing and be more curious about it. As has been said, the more you know the less you know and the more you learn the more you realize how much you do not know.


  4. Shella says:

    I do agree with most of your statement above, however do not you think that an individual still possess more power than organization does?


  5. Yes I do agree with you to some degree, as individual holds the entire power to decide. However, there are no exact proportion as to how much power does an organization or an individual has. Hence, it depends on how powerful the organization is in managing the change and to what extent the individual willing to embrace the change.


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