Resistance is always created by fear and fear is a product of uncertainty. Great leaders will often help their teams to manage their own resistance in order to create harmony in the team and to deliver what is needed from those teams.
Here is an excerpt on resistance from my book Leadership Beyond Measure
The cause of all resistance is fear, and it is prevalent in organisations and society. Uncertainty creates fear – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being vulnerable, fear for your safety. Fear makes you say and do things you would not normally say and do. It shows up as opposition, confrontation or unwillingness. It is your body and mind’s way of keeping you safe and preventing failure.
Fear has a major role to play in your survival. With the ever-increasing uncertainty of life and work, fear is a prevalent emotion in our society today. Somehow, we need to find a way to recognise it and navigate it. The uncertainty of our time is here to stay, and we need to continually develop our skills to cope.
Uncertainty requires a new approach. When you loosen your attachment on a specific outcome or view of success, fear reduces and you find your flow of leadership.
When resistance shows up, either in you or in others, be curious about what is behind it. What are you afraid might happen? What are you wanting to avoid? Let go of blame and judgment and allow the resistance to be part of the process of people making sense of their fear or discomfort.
In moments of resistance and polarisation, there is a tendency to resort to force to get people to come with you, instead of allowing them free will to work it out. Resistance needs space for understanding and reflection. This is born out of attachment to specific outcomes and breaks down relationships.
When you lead a team, using rank and authority to make people come with you works to a point, but it’s not leadership. It’s coercion, force, command and control. Call it what you will, but it serves only to deepen the divide, erode trust and break down relationships. The end result is either that people feel coerced and give in, not through free will but through a need for harmony and resolution, or they fight and become forceful in return. This results in stalemate and deadlock.
Whenever we meet resistance, the tendency is to blame the other party, to judge them as stubborn or difficult rather than seeking to understand. Often clients will call the horse stubborn if the horse does not come willingly. I explain that they have not yet met the conditions that allow the horse to feel compelled to come with them willingly, and the horses won’t come through force or rank. Resistance is feedback that someone’s needs are not being met, but often we don’t see this in the heat of the moment. Frustration during polarisation builds to a crescendo, escalating the coercion and corresponding resistance. The more you try and drag a horse, the more it digs its heels in. The same is true of people.
I often say to my clients: “My money is on the (600kg) horse if you get into a tug of war!” Horses are physically stronger than us so they demonstrate how force doesn’t work and invite people to find a different way of leading that is more relational, based on curiosity, collaboration and understanding. When a horse refuses to come with you, the only option is to recalibrate and find another way. Clients discover greater flexibility and adaptability, as well as increased self-awareness, all of which are enormously useful in the workplace.
With the pressure to deliver results in short timescales, stress behaviours are prevalent, especially in moments of uncertainty. People often resort to coercion to get the job done when they feel under pressure. Contrary to what you are trying to achieve by pushing for results, making specific demands leads to disengagement and further resistance and slows down results even more.
The resistance to change is a reflection of the desire for certainty and the status quo. There is a balance between not treating people as victims of their circumstances but recognising that not everyone can embrace uncertainty and change at the same pace.
I explain in Leadership Beyond Measure why resistance shows up: “If you’re getting resistance, people are effectively trying to say: ‘It’s too big a challenge for me, and I’m scared.’ Those people need help to navigate change and still feel safe.”
Ultimately, resistance needs to be met with more space for curiosity and reflection. When you allow time for increased observation and understanding, relationships grow stronger and minimise the divide. That’s challenging when you are under pressure to meet tight deadlines. Everyone will work at different paces and giving people space to work at their own pace is critical to minimise the resistance and reduce the polarisation.
What are you resisting and what impact is that having around you?
Where do you need to give people more space to work things out?