How to Lead When Employees Don't Want to Follow
Employees aren't going to like every decision you make. Strong leaders, though, know how to rally the troops, even around an initially unpopular idea.
John Maxwell, a prolific author who's written more than 60 books, says whatever you do, you can't buckle under unpopularity: "Sooner or later you encounter fierce resistance. Leadership feels a lot like peddling uphill, swimming upstream, or running into a stiff headwind. The challenge is to overcome the resistance instead of being overwhelmed by it," Maxwell writes on his blog.
Read below for Maxwell's suggestions on how to overcome stubborn employees unwilling to change.
Know that change creates friction.
Humans are creatures of habit, and changes in the day-to-day may upset their routines. So don't take opposition personal--it's bigger than you and your idea. "Leaders launch forward motion, but people stubbornly resist change because they dislike uncertainty. Most people would rather have familiar problems than unfamiliar solutions," Maxwell writes. "For this reason, you can anticipate having a tough time bringing about substantial transformations in your organization."
Don't forget the 20-50-30 principle.
"As a rule of thumb, 20 percent of your people will support your efforts to initiate change, 50 percent will be undecided, and the remaining 30 percent will resist you," he writes. He suggests not wasting your time trying to convert non-believers--it'll only backfire and make them resist you even more. Instead, court the 50 percent who are undecided and use the 20 percent to help convince them that your effort to drive change is positive.
Make a clear target.
Maxwell says that everyone needs an end goal to get through challenging, tough times. An employee needs to know his or her hard work will result in something beneficial. "As a leader, it's your duty to remind people of the benefits that lie just around the bend," he writes. "Without a sense of purpose, people quickly tire and lose heart."
Promise problems from the start.
Once you announce your campaign of change, be honest about the hardships ahead. If your staff doesn't anticipate problems, they're going to complain and you'll lose support. "Remind people of the rewards of change, but don't gloss over the difficulties," he says. "The nature of change is that things get worse before they get better."