Last week we left off in the middle of talking about four things people fear about change. The first was that change makes people feel awkward and uncertain. The second was they tend to focus on what they will have to let go instead of what good the change may bring. That brings us to the other two fears that cause people to resist change.
On March 2, 1962, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain did something no one else had ever done. He scored 100 points in a single game. That night Chamberlain scored 28 of those points at the free-throw line (he made 28 out of 30). What’s significant about that is Chamberlain’s lifetime free throw average was 51 percent. What was different that night? He experimented that night with the “granny shot.” Instead of shooting his free throws from overhead like most people, he tried something that had made another NBA star, Rick Barry, very successful. He shot underhanded, swinging his shot up from between his knees. It worked.
Despite the success he experienced with this different way of shooting, Wilt Chamberlain gave up the “granny shot.” He went back to his old, much less successful shooting style. Why? In his own words from his autobiography, “I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. Even now, the best one in the NBA, Rick Barry, shoots underhanded. I just couldn’t do it.” As I read about this story I didn’t see evidence that he was actually ridiculed. Nevertheless, his fear of ridicule drove him to make a very bad decision not to change.
During this year of pandemic, we’ve often heard the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” haven’t we? The lifestyle we’ve adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge, uncomfortable change. It was forced upon us by factors outside our control. Change like that tends to make people feel isolated, like they’re going through it alone. We human beings are programmed for community and interaction and isolation feels scary. During the pandemic, people have not only felt isolated by the change, many times we have been physically isolated. That’s why we keep hearing the reminder that we’re all in this together. It’s an attempt to calm the fear of isolation.
It doesn’t have to be a pandemic that may actually isolate us to make us feel isolated. When we are faced with a need to change, one that we didn’t initiate out of a desire to grow, we tend to internalize it and feel like we’re going through it alone. Even if the entire organization is going through the same thing, I can feel like nobody understands how this change is affecting my life. I can feel isolated and alone which is another reason people resist change.
Awkwardness and uncertainty, Letting go of something comfortable, fear of ridicule, fear of isolation. These are all real reactions to changes that come from outside us. If we want to lead change successfully, we would do well to acknowledge these feelings. We’ve felt them ourselves, after all, haven’t we? Understanding where resistance comes from will help us better introduce and navigate through change as leaders.
Next week, we’ll talk about how understanding these fears in our people can help us lead change more effectively.