2 Reasons Leaders Blame People for Resisting Change

June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sure, some of us have difficulty with change but I believe many leaders use this as an excuse to increase command and control techniques and create bureaucracies that actually make things worse.  When leaders blame people for their resistance to change they reveal their lack of understanding about the change process and they shirk their responsibilities as leaders.

I am a member of a board of directors for a local non-profit charity.  A recent fund raiser attracted only 65% participation by the membership.  The last board meeting was dominated by an emotional discussion about how these are the same people who never fully participate in anything.  Some board members even suggested we should take action to encourage their removal them from the membership ranks.  Blaming these people was convenient for some of the board but I interpreted this problem differently.  I interpreted this as an opportunity to improve our leadership skills and the motivational environment of the non-profit.

Ask yourself; is the lack of participation a symptom or a root cause?  I believe it is mostly a symptom of poor leadership and not a reason to blame people.  Unfortunately, many leaders faced with poor participation, poor engagement, or poor performance will tend to go for the easy answer, i.e. command and control of people.  Although challenging problems call for sophisticated solutions, leaders often go for the easy answer with increasing regulations and/or using contingent reward systems to create compliance.  Forced compliance is not voluntary commitment.  These command and control policies cannot create commitment and leaders want voluntary commitment because that creates the highest levels of performance and creativity for an organization.

There are two reasons why leaders tend to blame the people when change is not embraced.  First, it’s easier.  Instead of looking at their own leadership techniques it’s easier to blame others for your own shortcomings.  Blaming others means you don’t have to take responsibility, work hard, and/or take a risk to solve a complex problem.  Secondly, we have been immersed in the command and control techniques all the way through school and very few of us really know anything else.

It is easier to blame others

If we are waiting for others to change we may have to wait forever but that is OK because it means we won’t have to make an effort to change.  Unfortunately, to be truly effective, leaders must change their behavior first before they can expect others to change.

Gandhi was once asked by a Mom to help her son to give up sugar for health reasons.  He thought for a moment and told her to come back in two weeks.  When she approached him after the two weeks was up he finally agreed to help.  She asked him why she had needed to wait.  He told her that he had to give up sugar first before he could be a credible source of influence for her son.

Leaders must take responsibility for the current policies and behaviors that they created if they want to make significant and long-term change to stick.  The policies of command and control often influence others to have poor behaviors and/or poor performance.  Leaders must accept responsibility for uncovering these hidden causes.  It is not an easy task.  It’s hard work and it requires a different understanding of the world.  This “different understanding” is not what most of us have been taught.  This brings us to the second reason leaders often blame others, i.e. we have been immersed in the command and control techniques.

We have been immersed in the command and control techniques

With the best of intentions we have been immersed in Frederick Taylor Scientific Management thinking.  Frederick Taylor Scientific Management helped organizations in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to become more efficient by identifying the very best process to perform a job, breaking the job into small specific steps, and using pay-for-performance behavioral control techniques to force employees to comply with those specific steps.  This way of thinking has dominated our school system for 100 years.  We use standardized testing, grades, specific curriculum to control our children’s learning.

This command and control thinking no longer works well for us yet we remain immersed because it is all most of us know.  Unfortunately this way of thinking now longer works well.  The world has changed but our thinking continues to be the same.  We now find ourselves in the knowledge economy where require creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills and more important than ever.  These are not important in a command and control environment like Scientific Management.  Memorization and compliance is more important than freedom and creativity in the world of Frederick Taylor.   Even so, that theory is all most of us know.  Our schools are failing and our children continue to fall behind in these new skills because our system is set up to reinforce Frederick Taylor thinking.


If you are a leader and you see poor performance and/or poor participation in your change initiatives, please stop blaming people.   Blame won’t help you make improvements.   Look instead at how to create a motivating environment. Evaluate how you are thinking about people and problems.  Stop thinking that people are the root cause of these problems.  Instead, realize there are opportunities to think differently about change and to act differently as leaders.  Realize that these options will help people to become more enrolled in the changes you seek to make.


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