How leaders may affect followers’ resistance to change (IO Psychology)

Topic: Leadership, Change Management
Publication: Personnel Psychology (AUTUMN 2011)
Article: Leadership and employees’ reactions to change: The role of leaders’ personal attributes and transformational leadership style Authors: Oreg, S., & Berson, Y.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Does your organization go through change? I’d be willing to bet that it does, so you may be interested in what kind of impact leaders have on their followers’ intentions to resist organizational change. The authors of this study investigated how the traits, values, and behaviors of leaders explain their followers’ resistance intentions.

The participants in this study were principals (leaders) and teachers (followers) in the Israeli public school system. The more that leaders were open to an organizational change, the less their followers intended to resist the change. Leaders’ dispositional resistance to change also predicted followers’ dispositional resistance to change.

To measure transformational leadership, the authors assessed the extent that leaders used inspirational leadership, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. As leaders’ transformational leadership behavior increased (especially inspirational leadership), followers’ resistance intentions decreased. The relationship between employees’ dispositional resistance to change and their resistance intentions also weakened when the leaders’ transformational leadership behaviors increased.

So what explains these findings? The authors argue that the decisions that leaders make are influenced by their traits and values, and those decisions (through organizational culture and climate) will influence the beliefs and intentions of followers. Through transformational leadership behaviors, leaders can influence followers’ perceptions of change; instead of change being perceived as a threat, change can be seen as an opportunity. Transformational leaders also motivate their followers and provide a common vision, lessening the effect of an individual follower’s personality.

So what does this mean for practitioners? To decrease employees’ resistance to change, you might want to increase leaders’ awareness of their own attitudes towards change and how their change orientation may affect their employees. Training, mentoring, and leadership development programs can be implemented to teach leaders awareness, ways to mitigate their natural orientation to change (if it’s negative), and transformational leadership behaviors (e.g., how to create a shared vision).

Oreg, S., & Berson, Y. (2011). Leadership and employees’ reactions to change: The role of leaders’ personal attributes and transformational leadership style. Personnel Psychology, 64, 627-659. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01221.x

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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