The Three Bandits of Change Leadership



Successful businesses are constantly changing. They’re introducing new offerings based on customer demand, making product updates to improve their bottom line, expanding into new markets, promoting employees and more. But unfortunately not everyone is always ready to adapt. In fact, for every supporter of change, leaders will be challenged by those who are resistant or scared to embrace the new and unknown. And because of the disharmony caused by the change-adverse, the leadership, and possibly the whole organization, is put at risk for failure.

Why? Three change bandits – “The Other Guy,” “Adversity,” and “Discomfort” – can be viewed as keeping even the best-intentioned leaders from being successful. It is important to consider that change is not a left-brain rational act, but a right-brain emotional choice. The ability to lead and influence change is based on how we feel and how we make others feel. It is these feelings and how we process them that ultimately allow for successful change leadership. So taking the Three Bandits of Change Leadership head-on is a critical component to successfully leading a team, or an organization, through a change that will result in a better business for all.

for every supporter of change, leaders will be challenged by those who are resistant or scared to embrace the new and unknown.

What are the change bandits doing to cause problems for the leaders of change? They’re feeding on the emotional conclusions that the “other guy” needs to change, “adversity” should be avoided, and “discomfort” is incompetence in disguise. Here is a more in-depth look at each.

1. “THE OTHER GUY” – His voice of fear and limitations can easily change a mindset focused on being better to one consumed with being bitter. “The other guy did this to me.” “The other guy needs to go first before I can do anything.” “The other guy is keeping me from being successful.”

A number of years ago, I worked with a psychologist and business coach who started working in prisons. He spoke to prisoners one on one, asking them the same question: How did you get here? In each cell, the prisoner would say, “It wasn’t me; it was the other guy.” They told him elaborate stories – “my friends took me along,” “my cousin looks just like me, and they got the wrong guy,” or “I had a terrible lawyer and was never defended properly.” The coach quickly concluded if we caught this illusive “other guy,” we could empty our prisons. When he began working in corporate America, he conducted interviews with executives on what was holding back their performance. Amazingly, the “other guy” showed up here too. This “other guy” syndrome causes us to give away control of our future to others; the Other Guy Bandit must be sent off before he derails any change effort. When we keep control within ourselves, we can achieve our goals.

2.  “ADVERSITY” – The #1 roadblock to change is not addressing the areas of conflict or adversity that are critical to success. I’ve found that teams have extreme difficulty separating issues from individuals and stepping into the areas they fear may offend others. This is especially true the higher you go in an organization where adversity-laced conflict is talked about in the hall or at the bar, instead of as a team that must change to truly address the challenge.

Research shows that adversity is one of the most critical ingredients for personal and team growth. As adversity and conflict go away, people stop growing and begin a slow decline in capability. The goal is to hug adversity and embrace conflict to promote true change leadership.

The #1 roadblock to change is not addressing the areas of conflict or adversity

3. “DISCOMFORT” – Humility, vulnerability, and discomfort are the traits of change leadership. So how do we get comfortable with discomfort and realize that feeling like a dumbass can be the example of leading change? The secret is to create a new mindset that helps people feel and know they should not flee the discomfort, but see it as a sign of genuine leadership. Hug the indignity. Celebrate the clumsy. And remember the mindset that change is beginning again.

The three bandits – the “Other Guy,” “Adversity,” and “Discomfort” – must all be addressed in order to build and create a business for the future that is compelling and worth the risk.


Photo Credit from Flickr

Jim Haudan is the CEO and Chairman of Root, Inc. For more than 20 years, Jim has helped organizations unleash hidden potential by fully engaging their people to deliver on the strategies of the business. Jim believes business results are achieved by meaningfully connecting strategy to all of the people in the company to bring it to life. For eight straight years Root has been on the Great Place to Work® Institute’s 25 Best Small and Medium Workplaces, and among the 2009 Top Small Workplaces according to the Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces Inc. Root’s clients include some of the biggest names in business, such as Gap Inc., Petco, Dow Chemical, Pepsi, FirstEnergy, Taco Bell, and Hilton Hotels – more than 500 companies and tens of millions of people. Jim is a frequent speaker on leadership alignment, strategy execution, employee engagement, business transformation, change management, and accelerated learning. He has spoken at TEDx BGSU, the Conference Board events and numerous client meetings. He also contributes regularly to business publications and blogs and has written a national best-selling book, The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

  • TedCoine


    Another powerfully-compelling post from one of my favorite CEOs. Thank you for sharing this terrific one with the Switch and Shift community of purpose.

    Change can be one of the most miserable experiences of our professional careers – or one of the most transformative – it all depends on whether we celebrate the clumsy and hug the indignity, or try to resist them. But you know what I’ve noticed in organizations of any type undergoing significant change? The ones that embrace it with a collective smile and laugh off the skinned knees they accumulate along the way… those are the ones that thrive as a result of the change they undergo.

    The less eager ones, especially the outright negative and resistant groups? They don’t fare nearly as well. That is, if they survive at all.

    I’m really looking forward to your next post, my friend – as well as our first face-to-face meeting next time you’re in Naples!

  • Benji Bear

    Learning new skills (or adapting to new situations) often involves getting worse before you can get better. In some cases it is possible to devise transitions from old to new that are incremental.

  • James Dean

    I recommend that the author read the book, “Born To Rebel”. Resistance to change is a hallmark of firstborns. Understanding personality as relates to family birth order can be very helpful. Whether these personality traits are from family birth order or something else, being familiar with the personality types discussed give you insight into who you are dealing with.

  • Ashir

    These are good points, but in my experience I’ve found it’s not the junior or employee-level staff who seem to resist change as much as it is the leadership of companies. In many cases the change is superficial or alluded to in order to arrive at a satisfactory outcome as dictated by external entities — not because it is what is convenient or necessary. Without true, courageous leadership you’re likely to see a lot more of the behavior cited in the article — within executive ranks as much as you will at the staff level.

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  • TexasZag

    Resistance to change occurs at all levels of an organization, though it may just be more visible at the higher levels. As the author points out, “…change is not a left-brain rational act, but a right-brain emotional choice.” Left-brained/right-brainied is largely a function of how we are hard-wired and as such both are likely to be found at all levels within the organization. Resitiance to change is more likely with conservative-minded, risk averse–left-brained–individuals than with the abstract-thinking and risk-tolerance that are characteristic of right-brained individuals. It’s not just the other guy.

  • TexasZag

    I agree that personality traits are a factor and that it is important that the boss know who she/he is dealing with. A change management plan that does not take into consideration the unique challenges posed by the personalities within the organization, and to that end, the collective personality of the group, is challenged to begin with. However, I’d question whether that’s a function of birth order. Birth order would suggest nurture over nature. Science, however, is increasingly pointing to biological factors having significant roles in personality traits. For instance, some studies point to DNA or genes, while others have found that left or right-brain orientation (a function in risk-aversion or risk-tolerance and therefore a factor in resistance to change) is a function of how our brains are hard-wired.

  • Jim Haudan


    As a runner, I have often seen personal change evolve similar to a several mile run. For the first mile or so, your body and mind says ‘I shouldn’t be doing this. Stop and go back. It is not worth it.’. Then there is a breakthrough that shifts from ‘don’t’ to ‘keep doing this’ to ‘this is good for you’. People have described this as a runner’s high.

    I just witnessed something like this live as a CEO asked his 17 top leaders to describe their legacy of leadership. As they publicly read their legacy, the CEO actively coached them on the ways to make it more powerful. You could see, feel, and sense the red faces as the public coaching started. The initial reaction was punitive. This was the human response from a public review that wasn’t 100% approval. The discomfort (one of the bandits) was unanimously interpreted as an inadequacy.

    However, over a short period of time, the discomfort shifted to possibility, compelling conversations and an even stronger belief that each leader could make a major difference in the lives of other people. It is breaking through this first mile of discomfort that can lead to authentic change leadership.

  • TedCoine

    I love that analogy. I’ll be quoting you quite a bit going forward. Another arrow for my quiver ;)

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