5 Leadership Challenges in Change Management

Written By: James Nicholson
September 24, 2015
4 min read

The change process can have very different challenges for the leader than for the rest of the team. Knowing what challenges may lay ahead can best prepare you for managing them. Here are a few to keep in mind when leading the change.

1. Handle resistance with patience

Spider-Man learned the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility. But in the world of change management, we know that with great change comes great resistance. Expect it, because it’s not unexpected, and handle it patiently with conversation and feedback.

As the leader it will be your job to identify and manage resistance. Encourage vigorous dialog on whatever issues the group is most concerned with. Set fears to rest. Most importantly, provide the more reluctant members of the team with certainty, as confidence is frequently contagious.

Doubts are roadblocks in the process of change. You can get a lot further on this road with patience and clear, constructive guidance.

2. Manage conflicts

Real leadership involves talking to your team and helping each member understand either one another or the difficult part of the change.

And when a conflict or issue arises and threatens to disrupt your schedule, you need to step in as quickly as possible. Whether the conflict is with a person or a part of the process, you should be on alert to help find solutions. Being eager, even ready, to dive into the problem quickly is one of the best qualities of an active leader in the change process.

Patience is required here, too: If the interruption is unnecessary, give the individual or team time to see the conflict as you see it. But if the conflict highlights some fault in the process or planning, then this is a problem worth your time and expertise. This is your chance to show the team their trust in you is well placed.

3. Deal with setbacks

In transition management, upheaval is a normal part of the course of events. Because of this, never presume the steps established for change are foolproof (as any fool will tell you).

Keep morale up as you determine whether the setback is a critical failure or something that can be managed or even used to some benefit. This will lighten the effect of a setback–and with morale high, it may even shorten the delay as the team pitches in to help.

Expecting setbacks is the first step to being ready for them, but the second step is identifying the most challenging parts of the change in advance. Reassure the team that there were always going to be unexpected events, but this doesn’t derail the whole process. Then get to work managing the issue to determine if its going to change the outcome critically or if it’s just a one-off problem to overcome.

4. Protect your team

Your team should believe without question that if they stand by the established plan or process and some interdepartmental conflict occurs, you as their leader will have their back and will stand by them.

When you’re working with the other departments or teams (such as finance, IT, records management) with the resources or input you’ll need, you will meet other personalities… and in the worst cases, other fiefdoms. If there’s ever a moment where personalities, pride, uncertainty, or any of a number of unproductive or unprofessional interdepartmental conflicts occur, your team needs to know you’re with them. You need that buy-in, and you aren’t going to get it (or keep it long) if the team thinks you’re only leading them as a way of promoting yourself.

Counter this in advance by developing relationships through the company. Make connections and build bridges. A culture of cooperation for mutual benefit is a lot easier to manage and maintain than series of small, self-important kingdoms.

5. Look ahead

Keep your eyes forward. Be the one to see the iceberg before the rest of the team, and you’ll encourage confidence in your people. Encourage them to think critically and ask questions as a part of the process. Let them know why you see change as important and why they should trust your judgment. Spotting trouble before it can happen, or at least having a solution prepared in advance, will go a long way toward proving you’re the right leader for the job.

Personal or professional brilliance, experience, expertise, and dedication: If you bring all of these to bear, you’ll offer your group the confidence to move forward. A leader faces whatever challenges with better questions and even better solutions.

James Nicholson is a freelance writer with an M.S. in Strategic and Organizational Leadership from Neumann University. His 20 year business career spans all levels from the mail room to the boardroom. He takes a road less traveled approach to leadership.