Author, Steven Pressfield does a masterful job in The War of Art, defining and then describing how to combat Resistance, a powerful and vexing force of human nature that we might most often label as procrastination.

This book should be mandatory once a year reading for anyone over the age of 10!

Resistance is defined as, “…that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.”

Resistance shows up in many forms in our daily lives. It’s what keeps us from eating properly, working out regularly, taking that leap into a new job that we’ve been dreaming about for years, and pushes off to some unknown point in the future, the writing of the book that nearly everyone says that they have in them. If none of those examples fit, think of something in your life that you know you should do, but haven’t found the time or had the discipline to do it. That’s resistance.

Resistance shows up in leadership settings and in the workplace in many forms:

-Avoiding tough performance discussions. “They’re uncomfortable and maybe if we ignore them, they’ll go away.”

-Focusing on the fire drills. “We’re swamped. I don’t have time to think about the future.”

-Allowing the environment to govern your energy level and attitude. “This place drains the life out of you. If they don’t care, why should I?”

-Silencing voices. “I know we can do better, but no one will listen to me.”

-Resisting change. “That’s not the way we do it here. Every time someone suggests something different, they get shot down.”

-Bowing to bureaucracy. “I just follow the company policy.”

-Not actively supporting the development of others. “HR doesn’t offer the training that we need.”

Excuses, and poor ones at that.

Of course, we’re all human, and in my experience, even the most conscientious of leaders are capable of occasionally succumbing to the tyranny of resistance. I’ve observed good leaders grow a bit too comfortable with their teams and performance and almost unknowingly, they ratchet down their energy and intensity.

Those that are perceived as the strongest sometimes struggle very deeply with their own resistance. A retired CEO described to me that his biggest regret was never having the courage to conduct the tough discussions with his executives. He wondered how much his inaction in this area might have costs his companies over his career.

Ideas for Overcoming the Resistance of the Leader:

  • Go back to basics. Revisit the core definition of your role as a leader. If your priorities aren’t about creating an effective working environment, supporting others to achieve their objectives and supporting others to grow and develop in their careers, you need to redefine your role.
  • Assess: what keeps you from acting on your core priorities? Is it like a diet, where you rationalize that it’s OK to cheat, because you’ll run an extra lap later? Or do you genuinely need some help, mentoring, training or guidance to develop the skill needed to execute on your priority?
  • Analyze your calendar. Eliminate as many “status update” meetings on your calendar and see if anyone notices. Fill that time with one on one and in group discussions about topics that involve improving, growing, developing, innovating or doing anything other than talking about the darned status.
  • Give yourself structure. If you are project oriented, define your own personal improvement project, and measure and track your performance on doing the things you’ve historically avoided. This is a powerful approach for those that benefit from measures and rigor. I’m happy to offer suggestions on creating one of these if anyone is interested. You can e-mail me and I promise to get back quickly.
  • Add more structure.  Develop a routine that helps push resistance out of time and space. I write my posts at a certain time every day and I force myself to ignore phone calls, e-mails, tweets and fire alarms until the post is completed. Dedicate lunches to talking with your team members or block out calendar time to do nothing other than focus on development and coaching.
  • Find some healthy peer pressure. Find a similarly motivated peer and hold each other accountable. I do this with a colleague of mine and we push each other. Just the knowledge that I would have to listen to him give me grief if I drop the ball on something that I’ve committed to, is enough to help me overcome my own resistance.

The Bottom Line:

Call it resistance or procrastination or just plain laziness, the symptoms and outcomes are the same. Nothing.

Overcoming resistance requires more than a slogan and a sports drink. If you are conscientious enough to be reading my posts, you are capable of identifying and defeating your sources of resistance.

You might start with reading Pressfield’s book as a source of inspiration. That is if you can overcome the resistance that so often keeps us from cracking the cover and results in a stack of things that you plan on reading someday.

Have a great week and recognize the enemy of your progress and start taking action. Resistance hates action, and once in motion, action wins every time.