Can Change Leaders Resist Change?

During large organizational transformations we often focus on managing stakeholder resistance at the staff level, recruiting mid-manager stakeholders to help drive organizational change. Sometimes, due to the leadership role that mid-level managers play, their potential resistance to change is underestimated and/or overlooked, when in fact they may unknowingly be a primary source of resistance.

 Mid-level managers often wear two hats. They are both change leaders as well as change stakeholders.   As change leaders, managers are expected to drive change, embody it through role modeling and maintain a positive work environment for their staff, while managing a full range of staff emotions and resistance. As change stakeholders, managers are enduring the change. They are impacted by changes to their organizational structure, ways of working and organizational processes. In this way, managers will also undergo the range of emotions that staff experience during organizational change.

 Managers often resist change for the five reasons listed below. The behavioral indicators of their resistance generally involve passive behavior and a failure to engage, rather than more active and observable forms of dissent.


The duality and pressure of a mid-level manager’s role may cause them to feel more resistant than staff.  Managers can only become effective change leaders when they have reflected upon and addressed their own source of resistance, but how do we help the managers manage their resistance?

Beyond the encouragement of active involvement and two-way communication, mid-level manager resistance can be effectively managed by a key support system – other managers. At the onset of an organizational change, establishing formalized change leader support meetings will provide a forum for managers to:

  • Identify and discuss areas of resistance, indifferences and/or concerns
  • Provide honest feedback about the expression of resistant behaviors
  • Openly discuss opportunities to change behaviors.
  • Act as a support system to help managers resolve their resistance and provide support through the change

 Providing mid-level managers with a safe space for open communication without judgment of emotions or behaviors will help them develop a unified front and become more effective change leaders.

 Teneka Polite

Change Management Consultant

PA Consulting Group

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  • processinf food  On November 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm

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  • rick maurer  On November 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I appreciate your attention to the role of the middle manager during change – both stakeholder and leader. I’d like to add one important item to your list: they don’t trust the leaders they report to.

    This is often overlooked, but when middle managers (and other stakeholders) lack confidence or trust in their leaders, they resist. And they should! Sadly, senior leaders are often unaware that its the perception peple have of them that is creating the resistance.

  • Yasmine  On December 1, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Thanks for this article that gives an interesting perspective on change management.
    I would add that one resistance root cause can be related to the lack of authority.
    Note: “increased workload & lack of time” is listed twice.


  • rick maurer  On December 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I agree with that addition. When I am working on change projects with clients, I often suggest that managers and executives create an informal contract for the work. I usually give them a few prompts so that the manager or supervisor can ask the tougher questions. For example, Discuss what resources will be needed to complete this project effectively, on time and within budget. Be sure to discuss the amount of delegation needed. Money. People. Access to other key stakeholders. What the manager will need from the leader (i.e. opening doors, speaking at team meetings, etc.)


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