How CEOs Can Overcome Resistance To Change Within Their Organization

CEOs Navigate Change by Glenn Gow

Change is constant in business. Whether adapting to new market conditions, implementing new technologies, or restructuring your organization, change is crucial for growth and success. However, resistance from within your organization is one of the most significant challenges you’ll face as a CEO when driving change.

Resistance to change is a natural human response, and it’s something that you must learn to navigate effectively. When employees feel threatened, uncertain, or uncomfortable with proposed changes, they are likely to resist, leading to decreased productivity, morale, and, ultimately, the failure of the change initiative.

As a CEO coach, I’ve worked with numerous leaders to help them overcome resistance to change (see: “Why You Should Step Back and Listen to Your Employees“) and drive successful transformations within their organizations. In this article, I’ll share some key approaches you can use to address resistance and lead your organization through change effectively.
Understand the Reasons Behind Resistance

The first step in overcoming resistance to change is to understand the underlying reasons behind it. Employees may resist change for various reasons, such as:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Loss of control
  • Lack of trust in leadership
  • Concerns about job security

You must identify these reasons and address them head-on. Creating open communication channels (see: “Importance of Building Positive Workplace Culture As the CEO“) is an effective way to gather insights into employees’ concerns. Encourage employees to share their thoughts and feelings about the proposed changes and actively listen to their feedback. Understanding their perspectives allows you to develop targeted approaches to address their concerns and build trust.

Communicate the Vision and Benefits of Change

You must be clear and transparent in your communications when driving change within your organization. As a CEO, it’s your responsibility to articulate the reasons for change (see: “Why Critical Thinking Is Crucial for Leadership Success”) and help employees understand how it aligns with the company’s overall goals and values.

Focus on the benefits of the change for both the organization and individual employees:

  • Highlight how the change will improve processes.
  • Explain how it will enhance competitiveness.
  • Showcase new opportunities for growth and development at the employee level.

Address employees’ concerns and questions directly, providing specific examples and data to support your case. One powerful communication strategy is creating a “change story” that helps employees connect emotionally. Use storytelling techniques to paint a picture of the future state and inspire employees to be part of the journey.

Involve Employees in the Change Process

Another key approach to overcoming resistance to change is to involve employees in the process. When employees feel they have a voice and a stake in the change, they are more likely to buy in and support the initiative.

Form change committees or tiger teams that include representatives from different departments and levels of the organization. These groups can provide valuable insights and help shape the change strategy, ensuring that it addresses the needs and concerns of all stakeholders.

Look for opportunities to involve employees in the implementation of the change. Assign specific roles and responsibilities and provide the necessary training and resources to help them succeed. Empowering employees to be part of the solution can build a sense of ownership and commitment to the change.

Lead by Example and Demonstrate Commitment

Your actions and behaviors set the tone for the entire organization. If you want your employees to embrace change, you must lead by example and demonstrate your own commitment to the initiative.

Model the desired behaviors and attitudes that promote the change and be visible and accessible throughout the change process.

Regularly communicate progress and celebrate successes, even small ones, to maintain momentum and build confidence.

Be transparent about challenges and setbacks. Acknowledge when things aren’t going as planned and involve employees in developing solutions.

You can build trust and credibility with your team by demonstrating vulnerability and a willingness to learn and adapt.

Provide Training and Support

Change often requires employees to learn new skills, adopt new processes, or work in new ways. Ensure employees have the training and support to succeed in the new environment.

Conduct a skills gap analysis to identify areas where employees may need additional training or development.

Provide targeted training programs, workshops, or mentoring opportunities to help employees build the skills and confidence they need to thrive.

In addition to formal training, create a supportive environment that encourages continuous learning and growth. Encourage employees to share knowledge and best practices and provide resources such as access to industry publications, conferences, or online learning platforms.

Celebrate Successes and Recognize Contributions

Remember to celebrate successes and recognize the contributions of employees who are helping to drive the change. Change can be challenging and stressful, and it’s important to acknowledge your team’s hard work and dedication.

Look for opportunities to celebrate milestones and achievements throughout the change process. Acknowledgments could include team lunches, public recognition, or even small gestures like handwritten thank-you notes.

Consider implementing a formal recognition program that rewards employees who go above and beyond in supporting the change. Rewards could include bonuses, promotions, or other incentives that demonstrate the value of their contributions.

By celebrating successes, you can boost morale, build momentum, and reinforce the importance of the change initiative.

Transform Resistance into Success

Overcoming resistance to change is critical for any CEO looking to drive growth and success. By understanding the reasons behind resistance, communicating the reasons and benefits of change, involving employees in the process, leading by example, providing training and support, and celebrating successes, you can create a culture that embraces change and drives continuous improvement.

As a CEO coach, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that effective change leadership can have on organizations. If you’re looking to enhance your own change leadership skills and drive successful transformations within your company, reach out to me. With years of experience helping CEOs navigate complex change initiatives, I can provide the guidance and support you need to overcome resistance and achieve your goals.

My name is Glenn Gow, CEO Coach. I love coaching CEOs and want to help make you an even better CEO. Let’s decide if we are a fit for each other. Schedule a time to talk with me at I look forward to speaking with you soon.


Take Their Word For It

What Glenn’s Clients are Saying…


Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

As one of the founders, Janice had created the perfect solution in an exploding market. As her CEO Coach, we worked very hard to create a scalable business model that significantly accelerated revenue growth. This model included geographic expansion, the addition of new product offerings, and stickiness to create repeat business.

This triple revenue-acceleration model not only worked but it attracted the interest of growth investors.

But a growth model wasn't enough. We needed to help Janice become a better CEO. Specifically, we worked on how to manage her board, so their faith in her as the CEO grew as time went on.

For some CEOs, the board can be intimidating. At first, it was for Janice as well. We worked on how to manage the board and get the most out of the board. Ultimately, we turned the board into a strong set of advisors and advocates for Janice as the CEO.

The support and confidence of the existing board was a critical factor in enabling her to raise well over $100M in the next round, increasing the valuation by more than $600M.

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

My CEO client (Darren) was starting a company in a new category. He was focused on raising capital for his business and wanted help crafting his story. Darren is a brilliant CEO, yet he realized he could produce a better story with help from someone who has created successful fundraising stories many times.

When we started working together, his story was overly complex, difficult for investors to understand, and not as strong as it could have been. Together we built a story about the tremendous value the company was creating. We used historical precedent to bolster the vision and mission. We gave investors confidence in the founders. We proved that the company could scale.

Investors are pattern-matchers. They look for the patterns that tell them this opportunity is like other opportunities they’ve seen, giving them a strong belief in the potential ROI. Together, Darren and I constructed a winning story that helped key investors see the patterns of success.

According to Darren, “Glenn gave me the perspective and confidence I needed to succeed.” Darren raised $3 million for his startup company in his first round. Darren has continued to successfully raise money in later rounds as well.

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin was always asking, "How can I help my company grow faster?" She was successful by most measures but had higher growth ambitions.

As her CEO Coach, I helped focus her efforts and energies on an often-overlooked area for many CEOs. This area enables scaling and enables the CEO to manage their team more effectively -- values.

Most CEOs have corporate values but don't use them as the ultimate way to install a belief system - a way for every employee to focus on the most critical issues for the company.

Meilin and I worked on making the values core to the thinking and speaking of the management team. Once the management team adopted these values and started speaking about them in their regular communications, we knew that we were on our way to ensuring that every employee “lived” the values.

While values are not the only thing a company needs to grow fast, they are critical to its success. Meilin's company is now growing over 100%.

Sean Gets It All Done

Sean Gets It All Done

As CEO, Sean had no work-life balance, and he was struggling with the overwhelming responsibilities of being a CEO. One of the biggest challenges of any CEO is to get everything done. The list of critical items seems to grow every day.

As his CEO coach (and as a former CEO), I recognized the stress he was under. That level of stress is no fun. To help Sean become a better CEO, I focused him on delegation, talent development, and balance.

First, we focused on developing Sean's delegation skills. Delegation is the "8th wonder of the world." When you make it work, your workload diminishes, and the company performs at a higher level. As Sean became better at delegating, he also began to see strengths and weaknesses in his leadership team from a different perspective.

The next step was to refresh his leadership team. We created a plan to either develop the ones that could step it up and perform better or find new leadership team members for those that couldn't help the company grow.

Finally, we worked on creating a way of living for Sean that provided him some balance. I tell my CEOs to "put their oxygen mask on first." If a CEO wants to perform at the highest level, they need to take care of themselves first.

Now that Sean has a much better leadership team, he has become a master delegator. By delegating many of the activities he had taken on before, he now has much more time to take care of himself.

Sean's company has now entered a new growth phase. More importantly, he is enjoying his work a lot more and his life a lot more.

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

As a CEO, Viraj was focused on employee retention. He recognized the value of keeping high-performing employees and the high cost of turnover.

One of Viraj's direct reports was one of his "best" employees. This person consistently out-performed against their targets. Within their function, they were a rock star.

However, this same person was toxic to the rest of the organization. They constantly argued with others, and they made most others feel bad about themselves. Viraj found he was spending a great deal of time managing around the toxicity created by this employee.

Viraj valued this person's contributions within their function, and he also really hated the idea of employee turnover. As a result, Viraj put up with this person and continued to work around the toxicity issue.

As Viraj's CEO Coach, I helped him understand that team alignment and team cohesion are critical factors to help the company grow. We agreed that preventing employee turnover is a good goal, but not at the expense of creating a well-functioning team.

Viraj wanted to become a better CEO, and he knew what he had to do. While it was difficult, he decided to fire the person he once thought was his "best" employee.

The first thing he heard from the rest of his direct reports was, "What took you so long?"

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia, my CEO client, is a product genius. She is highly creative, an excellent problem-solver, and knows how to get products out the door on time.

Olivia raised a great deal of money based on her product ideas and some early successes. The challenge was that her company wasn't growing fast enough. The pressure from the investors was building, and she was worried.

Raising a lot of money early is a blessing and a curse. The curse is that Olivia delivered her product too quickly. She delivered it, making too many assumptions about the market she was serving. When the product was released, it was a good fit but not a great fit.

Olivia was concerned about the time and dollars it would take to conduct research and test product-market fit in multiple market segments. We created a partnering strategy that enabled us to test multiple new market segments in a short time.

Olivia has found multiple market segments that are a fit for the product. Now that she has achieved product-market fit, the strategy is to "go big" on the go-to-market. And her company is taking off.

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson was a first-time CEO. The company was doing well, but not quite as well as the board had hoped. Wilson found himself uncomfortable as a minority shareholder working with a board that could fire him if he didn't perform.

Wilson wanted to know how to manage a Board of Directors. The first step was to acknowledge that a board has different measures of success than the CEO. That means there will naturally be tension. The second step was to dig in to deeply understand what the key drivers are for each board member.

Based on this information, Wilson can now address his needs, the company's needs, and the board's needs. That was the first breakthrough.

Once he knew how to address the needs of the board, we turned to address his needs. As Wilson's CEO Coach, I helped him realize that the board is an incredible asset to leverage.

Wilson began to build relationships with the board members individually to understand better how they could be of service to him and the company.

When Wilson works with the board, he is fully aware of their needs and addresses them appropriately. More importantly, he now tells the board what he is doing and relies on their insight and experience for feedback on how to help the company perform at a higher level.

Wilson is no longer concerned about the board and now gets more out of them than ever before.

Darius Solved His Crisis

Darius Solved His Crisis

I got the call at 10 PM on a Thursday. Darius, a CEO client, reached out to me just as I was about to end the day. "Glenn, my Chief Revenue Officer, just resigned, and I'm not sure what to do."

Darius was running a rapidly-growing business that was highly dependent on a well-run sales organization. He had delegated sales responsibility to his Chief Revenue Officer so Darius could focus on engineering and product.

The good news is that Darius didn't relinquish oversight or reporting of sales, just sales execution. It's also true that Darius wasn't in a panic, and we had worked on a plan for the departure of each of his direct reports.

At the moment, though, Darius and I needed to review that plan to ensure it was our best option. We checked whether or not the interim head of sales could genuinely step into the role. We discussed which accounts Darius should immediately nurture relationships with. We agreed that the recruiter we would need was still the right recruiter.

We quickly put together a communication plan on how to bring this news to the leadership team and the rest of the company. We worked on the exact next steps to interact with the interim head of sales, the director of sales operations, and HR.

Darius felt he didn't know what to do, but in actuality, he did. We had prepared for this, and he just needed to talk it through in the heat of the moment so he could execute against the plan immediately.

Table of Contents