Not all change leads to growth, obviously, but growth never happens without change. So leadership is, in large part, motivating and organizing a group of people to change and grow. But… nobody likes change. Even people who say they like change don’t like it naturally. They’ve just developed a good attitude about embracing it.
As a Pastor, I used to take it quite personally when someone was afraid of the change I was urging for our church. While it doesn’t always solve all the issues, I finally came to understand that there is a psychology behind leadership that needs to be understood, even by shepherd-theologians leading a church. We must understand that people resist leadership for two big reasons: they’re afraid, and they’re hurt.
People are afraid when their sense of security is challenged, and security is a basic need of the human soul. We are naturally protective of the status quo, so we resist change that challenges us to move out of what is comfortable, safe, and familiar.
And people are hurt when their sense of significance is damaged. This happens when we feel ignored or invisible, or left out of the equation of a decision that affects our sense of security. We are supposed to have both of these needs met through our relationship with God as we seek our shelter in him and serve his people. But we naturally seek significance in superficial ways, which leads to trouble.
Why does all of this matter so much? Can’t we just push people by virtue of our position of authority? Shouldn’t people just get in line behind us and follow us in spite of their feelings? Maybe, but that’s not really leadership. Leadership is instigating and motivating people to move, then organizing them to move in the right direction with a clear picture of the destination. Charles Stone addressed this well in a piece on the six brain barriers to healthy church change.
If you want to lead better, understand what motivates people to resist you. When you bring comfort and encouragement to people who feel insecure or insignificant, you have a highly increased chance of leading them to do what you believe you’ve been called to do.
To lead better, understand how and why people think the way they do.
Here’s an audio clip in which I expand on this a bit…