Take the road of less resistance?
February 13, 2008
When I heard Bob say "Leadership is taking the way of least resistance," I snapped to attention and asked if I had heard him right. It was so opposite to what I believed. (Cooley is, and continues to be a personal mentor, and a very successful seminary president.)
He said it again, with a twinkle in his eye: hyperbole is a great way to make a point.
Rugged, take-no-prisoner leadership is the myth of my childhood and an unconscious web of our culture. In watching the US presidential primaries, we enjoy the seeming toughness of Barack Obama when he takes a swipe at Hillary Clinton: "Now that's leadership!" can be heard rippling from homes across America.
It's taken me some time to learn the important kernel of truth in Bob's line. Of course, this isn't all there is to this subject, but it's important.
Resistance comes from a variety of sources. It may be something which needs to be overcome for the sake of the mission. It could be factors that thwart the idea of the call and need defeating or pushing aside. People, policies or programs may conspire in a rather deliberate way to defeat the idea. But on reflection, not that often.
So for sake of this conversation, let's focus on personal experience within our own organizations or businesses.
I grew up regarding internal resistance from boards, staff or donors—for those of us in the not-for-profit sector—as what needed overcoming. After all, I consider our leadership team's ideas as good ones. Also, there is a rightful sense of a holy anointing in what we are about.
But not so fast. I've learned the hard way that most often resistance tells me something is wrong:
However, in my almost thirteen years working with faculty, I've found that when an idea is materially resisted, it is usually due to one of the above reasons.
The way of least resistance isn't because I want to get along. It's because others are not persuaded it is good, good enough or to be implemented at that time. In each case it pushes leadership back to the drawing board.
As a leader, I don't like to be opposed. Ego pushes up my back. Impatience snaps a retort. Hurt feelings pick up marbles and walk away. All terribly immature and unspiritual.
Sometimes the best answer of my parents was "No." One of the most helpful evaluations is when flaws are pointed out.
When I choose to take the way of least resistance, it's not that I'm forfeiting leadership or bowing to please others. Rather, it's because there may be a better way or better time.
Thanks, Bob, for helping me see the courage it takes for a leader to set aside plans to find what and when is best.
Creator of personality and Spirit of Guidance whose agenda is Kingdom-good, may grace, patience and self-giving govern, so the goals are never abridged, motives never sullied and communities never diminished. This is Your work. May we do what You have in mind and in Your time. Amen.
Leadership is taking the way of least resistance.