Dear Coach: How Can I Affect Change?

February 9, 2022   |   Lesli Mones

What’s the Problem?

Dear Coach – I was brought into my role to create change for my organization but when I try, I get pushback. I’m told, in not so many words, “That’s not how we do things here,” or “You should probably take it slower.” How can I affect any meaningful change if I’m getting stopped at every turn?


Stifled Change Agent 


First, let’s unpack this. Your question tells us two things:

  • You were assuming—and probably hoping—that your organization would open its doors, be willing to change and be ready and excited for everything you have to offer.
  • You are also assuming that pushback means you are getting a decisive “No” to what you’re trying to do.

So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? A few thoughts:

  • You were hired into your position to create change. If you step back from that, you will not be fulfilling the obligations and expectations of your role. 
  • You’re hoping for permission from the people who may be threatened by the changes you’re trying to enact, and whose obligations are unseen to you.
  • You haven’t done enough to understand their context and their world within your organization. Because of this, you’re failing to see your power from where they sit and the threat you pose to them. 
  • You haven’t sufficiently articulated your viewpoint and the value of the changes you’re trying to create. In other words, you haven’t sold your ideas sufficiently enough to change people’s minds. 

What’s the Solution?

To be able to respond and move forward productively, you’ll need to do several things, including:

  • Remember that pushback is protection in disguise; it is also a natural part of any change process.
  • Articulate the value of the changes you want to make–for them in their role and for the organization as a whole.
  • Better and truly understand the other side’s context; they likely have information for you that will help make the change you are trying to create actually take hold.
  • Find middle ground—that sweet spot between what they need and what you’re trying to achieve. 
  • Regulate emotions–yours and theirs. Take a deep breath and see that this journey may take time and patience. And help them be less anxious about what you’re trying to create. Let them see what they will gain from the change.

A good first step is to sit down with the right people to understand their context and appreciate their challenges. Once you’ve done that in a true and meaningful way, practice articulating your ideas in terms of how they will help remedy those challenges. Have productive conversations, ask for feedback, and keep moving forward until you start to see doors open.

In the words of the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Real change—enduring change—happens one step at a time.”

Best of luck!

Each month we answer questions we often get from the leaders we work with and unpack how at the end of the day, every problem is a power problem. If you have an issue you just can’t solve, get in touch! We’d love to answer your questions in an upcoming Dear Coach post. Find us at [email protected], or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.