The Power of Resistance in Leadership

Only a mediocre person is always at his best.

~W. Somerset Maugham

I came across an interesting story not long ago about how our muscles grow and develop. According to medical research, “muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance or weight. This process is known as hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when fibers sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles.”

Did you catch that? Muscles build when there is resistance. The process actually includes the tearing of muscle fibers. It sounds like a painful process but it is necessary for the bigger picture; gaining muscle strength and growth.

When it comes to our personal growth and our growth as leaders, we tend to stay away from things (or people) that cause us pain. And often, the very thing that will move us in the direction of more growth and development, is the very thing we try to avoid. Why? Because it’s painful or because we are unwilling to pay the price for that growth. It’s the ultimate catch-22.

In The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, here’s how John Maxwell defines the Law of the Rubber Band, “Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.” There are many uses for a rubber band, but it’s of no use or value until it’s stretched.

As a leader, how willing and open are you to being stretched for the sake of growth? What sacrifices are you willing to make to become a better leader tomorrow? Unless you are stretched you will never reach your full leadership potential.

Your physical muscles grow as they are challenged to deal with higher levels of resistance. What does that look like in leadership? Let’s consider these two ways.

You grow in your leadership as you resist your comfort zones

When you begin moving out of your comfort zones – those familiar places where you routinely operate with a great degree of predictability, then you will begin to feel resistance. It’s akin to the feeling you had when the training wheels came off when learning how to ride a bike, or when learning to swim and you took the plunge into the deep end of the pool. All of your training and learning up to that point have prepared you for the next step.

In order to grow, you must be willing to move in the direction of the things you’ve resisted the most up to this point.

In the book Originals – How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant quotes John Kotter who sheds additional light here stating, “Without a sense of urgency, people…won’t make sacrifices. Instead, they cling to the status quo and resist.” Perhaps in your leadership, this is where you find yourself – with no sense of urgency. Here’s what you need to know – without embracing resistance that will develop you as a leader, you will stay right where you are. Without a sense of urgency, you will be at the same place a year from now as you find yourself today. Your personal growth and development will only happen when you are willing and prepared to make the sacrifices to get there.

You grow in your leadership when you embrace the tension of growth

Developing your leadership mettle happens when you embrace the tensions of growth. I’m not talking about the tension that arises due to strained relationships or conflict in the office. The tension that I am referring to is the tension that’s created when you recognize that your comfort zone is no longer serving you well and it’s time to get out of it. It’s the tension that takes place when you move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and from a negative attitude to a positive attitude. It’s the tension that takes place as John Maxwell says when you are willing to give up security for significance and addition for multiplication.

Ultimately, by embracing the tension of growth you will develop a new set of leadership muscles and fortitude you didn’t have before.

Simon Sinek remarked, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” And passion is the ultimate difference-maker when it comes to how you lead. It emboldens you with confidence and confidence is contagious.

Final Thoughts

Your personal growth and development and that of your leadership occur when you embrace the tension and put resistance to work. As you embrace the tension, you will grow as a leader. This is how you put resistance to good work.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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  1. We see leadership as the climb to honor and privilege, rather than the descent to take care of the needs of others.
    True leadership is sacrifice, not privilege.
    The essence of leadership is to take the initiative that we otherwise would not have taken and to make sacrifices that we otherwise would not have made to lead people in a good direction that they would not otherwise have taken. They are willing to accept temporary personal hardships in order to obtain lasting collective benefits. I am among those who are learning that the greatest joys in life are not in personal well-being and comfort, but in choosing what is uncomfortable and difficult for the sake of the joy of others. They find interest and satisfaction not in the ease of looking after themselves, but in the difficulty of taking care of others.
    Leadership is not for those who want to gain honor and recognition, but for those who are most ready to bother with the needs of others. They are the ones who, in a sense, instead of seeking their immediate gain, are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.