The Resistance

Resistance is hot. The recent change of administrations in Washington has unleashed a level of active and passive resistance that frankly I have never seen in my life. Sure, there was resistance to Clinton, Bush and Obama, even resistance reaching far back to Nixon and Reagan. But the fever pitch of the current strain is otherworldly.

What does it mean to resist? Merriam-Webster defines it as exerting “oneself so as to counteract or defeat”, or “to withstand the force or effect of.” To resist is to act partly as warrior and partly as personal defender. When the resistance is active, it is easy to spot. Passive resistance, though, is fraught with miscalculation. Read it too aggressively and you overreact. Read it too passively and you might miss it entirely until it morphs into undeniable active form.

So in this heightened age of resistance, how can one effectively lead? Through persuasion, persistence and sensitivity. The leader who knows when to lean into persuasion, when to act dogged in presenting one’s position and when to be sensitive to spikes in crowd reaction is the leader who can soften and redirect resistance toward a constructive end. Even when combating hidden resistance swelling under the surface, the tactics are essentially the same. And this historical period we find ourselves in raises the issue of what makes a good leader to greater prominence. I suggest we clearly embrace an evolved definition of the modern leader and slough off the sediment of old school elitism and preening dominance.

In truth, a leader facing resistance is facing a cry, open or silent, of injustice. In many professional cases, such resistance is silent, expressed as a kind of unease that permeates the institution. Such unease is a horrible thing, a dark fog resting at ankle level, ready to restrain forward progress with a swift, sure tug. Unlike upfront fear, unease shakes everything up and makes people uncertain of every move. It is the hardest intractability that an organization can face, one that demands a special leader to see it through. (See above.)

The British author and playwright Hilary Mantel penned a gorgeous essay post-election for the New Yorker titled “The Rights of Women Under President Trump.” She wrote of feeling stalked by fears of a country unhinged, turning its desires both abruptly and secretly toward a period in which social gains recede, economic equality is redefined in brutal ways and America’s standing in the world resembles the heated pronouncements of a professional wrestler over the cool deportment of the globe’s pater familias. She gave form to the unease and the resistance that stands up in its wake. Shrink the scale of this unease down a bit and it can apply to any group or company.

It would be easy for me to pronounce that the solution to such resistance, in addition to the approach of a skillful leader, is undeniably female. Yet in great part this is true. I have written before about the resounding benefits of female infused leadership. Disappointingly, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently noted that gender parity will take 170 YEARS to achieve, a shocking plummet of 52 years compared to the estimate in 2015. And more disheartening, some believe that advances in technology will hurt professional women more than help them, as the areas of growth for human employment are in fields that women still have struggles breaking in to.

So where we find ourselves now, ironically, is as members of the resistance. The resistance against one-side leadership, against regression back to periods when broad swaths of people were underrepresented, against the feeling that progress has been stalled or, worse yet, reversed. I am not speaking entirely of politics. I am also speaking of institutional and societal leadership. It is not the time to lie down and long to once again live in a bubble. It is time to promote and support new breeds of leaders who persuade, persist and stay sensitive. It is time to promote and support diversity in leadership more pronounced than before.

It is time to resist.



There are no comments yet, add one below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *