Workplace Pressure: A Tool for Growth

“To fly we have to have resistance.” —Maya Lin, architect

Even hearing the word “resistance” can conjure up images of pressure, struggle, and conflict. Most intelligent people avoid resistance whenever possible, especially in the workplace.

As an organizational psychologist and consultant, I deal with the effects of resistance in organizations all the time, and the message that “resistance is good” is not always well received. Yet it’s absolutely essential to personal and organizational development.

Allow me to make a case for the value of resistance.

Human Development: To be Physically Fit, You Must Resist

From the moment we take our first steps as small children, pushing against the effects of gravity serves a vital role in the establishment of robust physical anatomy. As we get older, we are told to seek out opportunities to push against artificial resistance (in other words, to lift weights) in order to stay young, healthy, and have a strong frame.

Astronauts who spend too much time in space floating effortlessly, without the resistance of gravity, experience unfavorable effects and must rehabilitate when they get back to earth.

Nature’s Design: The Hard Path to Beauty

The Emperor Moth, a large beautiful moth, emerges from a cocoon that has the shape of a Coke bottle. Its path to freedom leads it down through the narrow end of the cocoon, where the moth must force its way to freedom. Once again the resistance serves an important function. Without it, the moth’s wings would be shriveled and worthless. You see, it’s the resistance of the narrow opening that squeezes necessary fluids out of the moth’s body and into its wings.

Air Travel: Get Lift from Resistance

The very nature of air travel depends upon the consistent presence of resistance in flight. Pilots prefer to take off and land the aircraft into a headwind. The resistance of the air over the wings provides lift and control. When the resistance releases quickly and significantly, it can cause a deadly condition called wind shear. Talented engineers and contentious pilots understand the value of resistance and they use it to their advantage.

Workplace Pressure: A Tool for Growth

Work is hard enough without experiencing resistance from and with the very people we are teamed-up with. Efficiency experts might contest that adequate planning, alignment, and execution, if successful, will reduce resistance… and I would agree. It should be an individual and organizational goal to achieve the aforementioned advantages.

However (I love this word sometimes!), 32 years of being in the business of developing leaders and strengthening teams has convinced me that the most fulfilled, effective, sought-after leaders are not those who flourish in the absence of resistance. Rather, they are the leaders who have learned to use resistance as a tool for personal and organizational development. These are people who, when it comes to image management, are more interested in being seen as a competent learner rather than a flawless victim.

Updraft Leaders choose to see resistance, pressure, and conflict as an unexpected gift to growth and development. Like a baby getting up again and again, or like the Emperor Moth squeezing through the narrow end of the cocoon, or a plane tilting the wing just right into the headwind to create lift, Updraft Leaders diligently extract the lessons of resistance and use it to become better and not just bitter.

May you develop, expand, and soar through the gift of resistance.



As an organizational psychologist, Dan McArthur has worked with owners and top executives in a variety of organizations for 30 years. He is at his best when the obstructions to growth and harmony are not readily observable. He has an amazing ability to quickly build trust with all key players and support them as they move toward better self-management, leadership, healthy team dynamics, and increased productivity.

copyright 2018 McArthur Executive Development