37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations. Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

Hindrances to Change

I’m teaching a graduate course on organizational leadership this semester. Yesterday, our lecture focused on barriers to change. From change theorists like Kurt Lewin on to others today, it is argued that change may only take place if the driving forces working toward change are greater than the restraining forces working to maintain the status quo.

In light of such perspective on change, leaders must be aware of the significant forces, barriers, and hindrances working against change.

I see hindrances or barriers to change grouping around four primary domains:

  1. Intrapersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to individuals
  2. Interpersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to the interpersonal relationships between individuals
  3. Team & Organizational Dynamics: barriers related to team and organizational systems and structures
  4. Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics: barriers related to the larger context within which organizations are embedded

In order to better understand the restraining forces at work against change, I present these 37 barriers to change grouped around the four above noted domains.

Intrapersonal Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Personally)
  • Risk Adverse
  • Complacency
  • Fear of Increased Responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to Experience the Discomfort of Change
  • Threat to Personal Values & Perspectives
  • Comfort with what is Familiar (peace before progress)
  • Suspicion of New Ideas
  • Focus on Self-Interest
  • Concerns for Job-Security

Interpersonal Dynamics

  • Lack of Trust
  • Resenting Interference of Others
  • Threat to Status in Community
  • Feared Loss of Power
  • Feared Loss of Positive Personal Relationships
  • Insular Approach to New/External Ideas
  • Feeling Excluded & Left Out
  • Poor Communication

Team & Organizational Dynamics

  • Focus on Past Success and Innovation
  • Social and Structural Self-Preservation
  • Institutional Focus over Focus on Purpose
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Feasible
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Necessary
  • Rule of a Change-Adverse Minority
  • Lack of Leader Vision & Leader Direction
  • High Cost (economic and human resources)
  • Failures Treated as Problems in the Organization Culture
  • Misalignment of Resources
  • Lack of Sponsorship by Senior Leadership
  • Lack of Training on How to Approach Change
  • Organizational Culture that Is Adverse to Change

Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Organizationally)
  • Economically Uncertain Environment
  • Fear of Unknown Environmental Realities
  • Concerns for Organizational Competition
  • Lack of Socio-Cultural Awareness
  • Not Considering the Needs/Wants/Aspirations of Environment or Society when Approaching Change

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Change is a reality in our world. Leaders who grow in their awareness of the barriers and restraining forces working against change will be better positioned to find solutions and carve out a positive change pathway for their community. In your organization, what barriers to change are most pronounced and how is your community working to find a productive pathway forward?

5 Types of Leadership Communication

Communication by Krossbow, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Communication, by Krossbow, Flickr

In a previous blog post I highlighted 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. In this post I will highlight 5 Types of Leadership Communication.

As leaders, communication is a central skill for accomplishing the goals and outcomes our organizations desire. We are tempted to view communication in very monolithic ways such as COMMUNICATION = TALKING. However, in the flow of leadership, communication is more nuanced than this. Yes, it includes talking, but there are other types and levels at which communication does and must take place.

Here are 5 categories or types of leadership communication.

1 — Verbal & Nonverbal

The first type of communication is verbal and nonverbal. Whether you want to or not, as a leader you are always communicating. This may be happening with your words, or it may be happening with your nonverbal cues. How many times have you been in a meeting with someone who is constantly looking at their watch or looking out the window rather than paying attention to the conversation in which they are engaged? Such nonverbal cues communicate powerfully. They powerfully communicate disinterest and lack of engagement.

As leaders, both our verbal and nonverbal communication matter immensely. What are you communicating with your words? What are you communicating with your nonverbal cues? Is there continuity or discontinuity in these threads of communication?

2 — Intentional & Unintentional

Communication may be verbal or nonverbal. It also may be intended or unintended on the part of the leader. This is the second type—intentional and unintentional communication. Saying the thing we wish to say, in the way we wish to say it, at the time we wish to say it is one example of intentional communication. But it does not always work this way in leadership. Sometimes we unintentionally say the wrong thing, in the wrong manner, or at the wrong time. Other times we may unintentionally communicate conflicting messages—saying one one with our words intentionally and another message with our actions non-verbally.

Our intentional and unintentional communication are both important. What are you communicating intentionally? Are you aware of what is communicated unintentionally?

3 — Conscious & Unconscious

The third type of communication is conscious and unconscious. This third type of communication builds on the above foci. Verbal, nonverbal, intentional, and unintentional communication can take place either consciously or unconsciously. I may be communicating something both nonverbally and unintentionally, but still be aware of it. The real challenge to leaders is that which is communicated unconsciously. This takes intentional effort to address. Such effort may take the form of inviting others to observe us and give us feedback. Unconscious communication may support our leadership goals, or they may be working against us. Others can help us pay attention to our approach to communication.

The discussion of conscious and unconscious communication relates to a concept known as the Johari Window. The blind spot and unknown quadrants in the table below represent unconscious areas. When we are communicating at these levels, especially when we communicate negatively, it is important to invite the feedback of others so that we may raise these areas to the conscious level and proactively improve the leadership message communicated.

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

4 — Action & Inaction

The fourth type of communication is action and inaction. As with the above types of communication, effective leadership communication practice must pay attention to both action and inaction. Kouzes and Posner emphasize the priority of modeling the way in their book The Leadership Challenge. Modeling the way is an example of positive action communicating a desired leadership message. However, inaction also communicates powerfully. For example, if a leader consistently avoids confronting unhelpful or unethical behavior on a team, this inaction communicates a powerful  and negative message to other team members seeking healthy and ethical team performance.

How are you communicating as a leader through your actions? What leadership messages are communicated through your inaction? What needs to change in light of these observations?

5 — Head & Heart            

The final type I’ll note is head and heart communication—communication at both the cognitive and affective levels. This distinction acknowledges that leaders communicate both cognitively and affectively. They communicate at both the level of the head and the heart. Challenges arise when leaders are communicating at one level while followers need another. In some ways, this distinction relates to the dimensions of intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation within transformational leadership theory. At times, followers may be need affective, heart-oriented, and inspirational motivation from their leader. Challenges arise when leaders communicate in just the opposite manner—communication at the cognitive, head-oriented, and intellectual level. Leaders must look not only to what needs to be said and how they as leaders need to say it. Leaders must also look to how followers and organizational members need to hear a message.

Do you tend to communicate more cognitively or affectively? Are you emphasizing your personal communication style preference in this area as a leader, or are you providing your community and followers with the type and style of communication that they need? Thinking of the head-heart category of leadership communication is one approach for adjusting to follower needs.

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In light of the 5 Types of Leadership Communication noted above, what areas are your strengths? Which types are your growth edges? Are you inviting trusted friends and peers to give you feedback on how you communicate with others and how you may grow as a leadership communicator?

I’d love to hear how you approach navigating the complexities of leadership communication. Share your thoughts when you get a chance.

 

 

Managing the Mountains of Conflict

Conflict is a regularly part of most organizational journeys. Just like any journey to the Pacific Northwest is likely to encounter travel through the Cascade or Rocky Mountains, so any organizational journey is likely to encounter the metaphorical mountains of conflict. Although conflict is a normal and regular part of organizational life, many leaders and organizational members still struggle to find their way through the mountains of conflict.

In this brief video, I use the backdrop of Mt. Hood as an occasion to discuss the importance of understanding conflict styles, working toward conflict resolution, and pursuing the summit of reconciliation.