Episode: How Successful Leaders Overcome Resistance

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to tell you how to beat the primary challenge that every leader faces in achieving their vision: the resistance.

Megan: This is like a giant spoiler alert: you are going to face resistance. If you have a big vision, you’re going to face resistance. That’s because creating a better future isn’t easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it, which, of course, they’re not. So, when you’re pursuing a big vision, you’re going to have resistance pop up in a number of places.

For example, it could be somebody or several people inside your organization who are really resisting you. They’re actually trying to block your progress. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it happens. It could be resistance outside of your organization. Not everybody wants your industry to be disrupted in the way you do. You could have critics and naysayers and maybe even be publicly ridiculed.

There’s also environmental resistance. Those are the gremlins that seem to affect every project, like the cost overruns and delays and market changes and lack of capital. You can also have resistance inside yourself, and that’s one of the hardest kinds of resistance to deal with, but it definitely comes up. Honestly, whether you have one of these things or all four of the types I mentioned, you’re going to wonder at some point in the pursuit of a big vision, “Is it even worth it?” It can be really discouraging.

Michael: It can be, and today we’re going to show you how to solve that problem. I’ve identified three essential tools you can leverage to beat the resistance, but first let’s bring Larry on. Hey, Larry.

Larry Wilson: Hi. Great to be here.

Megan: Larry, I’m glad we don’t have to count you among one of the hard resisters in our company. We don’t actually have any hard resisters.

Larry: No, we don’t. In fact, that’s what I was going to say. As I read the book, which just came out last week, The Vision Driven Leader, and I was reading about resistance, I was like, “We don’t see that around here because everybody is so bought in to what we’re doing.” But obviously, you’ve led in different contexts, both of you. Tell me about where you have experienced resistance.

Michael: Well, I just want to say that resistance is not always a bad thing. You can reframe it. The resistance an airplane gets to the way the wings are designed is exactly what creates lift. So not all resistance is bad. In fact, I would say, it’s a necessary component that refines the vision and makes it possible to go faster and bigger than you thought possible at the beginning.

Let me give you an example. We came up with this idea of the Full Focus Planner, and I can remember thinking to myself (this was kind of internal resistance), “Really? We’re going to get back into publishing?” Because that had been my background. Several people in the company had been involved in publishing, and we had this beautiful, highly profitable, online business.

So initially, I had this internal resistance, like, “A physical product? We’re going to take on inventory? That’s going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of the hassles of distribution and fulfillment and all that.” So I had a lot of internal resistance. Then, when we announced it, I started getting all this pushback. People said to me, “You know it’s 2017” (that’s when we first published it), as though we have all of these digital tools now, and this felt like a huge throwback to the past, and maybe I was being a Luddite for publishing an analog planner.

That was real resistance, because I don’t like being made fun of, but I thought, “No. There’s really something to this. This is really important.” It helped me to refine the reasons we were doing it and to go deep into the research and rediscover exactly what benefit this was going to have over a digital solution.

Larry: Well, today we’re going to show you the three essential tools you can leverage to beat resistance to your vision. The first tool is tenacity.

Michael: Tenacity is one of those things that is critical to the achievement of any vision, because, again, you’re going to get the resistance, and almost immediately, almost when you commit it to paper and begin to visualize it, you’re going to encounter the resistance, either internally or externally. One of the things I knew when I started this business… Back then, it was just basically me.

I was going to write a book that was going to help me accomplish my vision, because I knew if I had a book and I knew if I had a best-selling book, that book would be a huge help in launching my speaking platform, in drawing attention to the business, in getting consulting clients, and all the rest. But as I started, it was really difficult writing that book. I began to encounter the resistance internally.

I can remember putting together the first draft of the manuscript. I was a month late in getting it done. Part of it was I was just procrastinating. Part of it was I was busy out on the road speaking. But when I finished that first draft, I remember thinking to myself, “This is terrible. This sucks.” I mean, I don’t know how to sugarcoat it. I just thought, “This is not any good.” I gave it to the editor, and I said, “Here it is. It’s a month late, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s very good.”

I wanted to give up. I literally thought, “Maybe I should give the advance money back to the publisher and try something else.” Thankfully, I had a very kind editor who said, “No. Let me go to work on it. I think this is going to be fine.” So she went to work on it and produced a manuscript, and when I got it back, I thought, “This is better than I thought.” But it was that resistance, that resistance to quit before I’d barely begun.

I think that’s sort of emblematic of what everybody encounters when they pursue a vision. There’s going to be something that usually happens at the beginning that’s going to make you want to quit, but tenacity is the secret to overcoming that, just staying with it. The thing that got me to stay with it in the midst of that was refocusing on the vision. Thankfully, I’d written down all of the reasons that book was important, all of the things I hoped to accomplish with it. It made me continue with the project when I wanted to quit.

Megan: Don’t you think, too, that the bigger your vision, and maybe even the more important it is, the more resistance you’re going to face?

Michael: Totally.

Megan: I mean, I think sometimes we feel like maybe the resistance is telling us we’re doing the wrong thing, like, “What does it mean? Is it an early indicator that I’m on the wrong track?” That is kind of what’s sneaky about it and really insidious. It can undermine our confidence and cause us to give up, but in reality, it’s the opposite. It’s usually indicative that what we’re pursuing really matters.

Michael: Nothing important goes unopposed. Steven Pressfield, as we’ve noted on this show a few times before, wrote a great book called The War of Art, which is all about overcoming the resistance. In fact, he has really written three books in that series about overcoming resistance, which, if you’re an artist or a creator of any kind, it’s really important to read. If you’re a CEO, it’s a really important book to read.

Megan: I was going to say, if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s really critical.

Larry: Has there ever been a time when you decided that sticking with a vision wasn’t the right thing to do, you actually gave up on a vision? Did the resistance ever get that tough?

Michael: Yeah. I think the challenging thing is to know the difference. Seth Godin wrote a book on that called The Dip. How do you know when you can read your circumstances and it’s just not a good project, it’s not worth pursuing? I can think of when we created Your Best Year Ever, we were so excited about that. We created the course 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever, and we thought the natural segue to that, because we had people asking for it, was to create the leader’s edition of it. I think we may have talked about that on the show in the past.

We were so enthusiastic about it, we filmed the entire series, we put together the workbook, we created a beautiful sales page, we went to launch it, and it was crickets. We got one order. You know, big campaign…all that. We thought there had to be something wrong technologically. There’s no way we could only have one order, but that was the truth. We only had one order.

Well, that was a situation where we said, “You know, this is not just the resistance; this is just a bad idea.” But to my point earlier about the resistance being the thing that gives you lift, it was from that that we developed the 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever live event, which was a huge success for our company. We realized that, yeah, people wanted to train their teams, but they wanted to bring their teams to us, not do it themselves.

Larry: Well, Megan, you lead a team of leaders, and your team must face this kind of resistance too and have moments when they feel like, “Ugh, I just don’t know if this vision is worth it.” What do you do to pass on this tenacity to the people who work with you?

Megan: Well, I think there’s an important distinction between tenacity in your commitment to your vision and a willingness to change strategies. Sometimes what really needs to happen is you need to change your strategy, which is not the abandonment of your vision. It’s your strategy for accomplishing it. I think that is helpful.

We kind of go through a conversation about that. Is the strategy the thing we need to adjust? How else could we accomplish this vision? Usually, that is what enables them to stick with a vision. Very occasionally we’ll let something go, but mostly, it’s an issue of strategy, not an issue of vision. I think we have to be alert to that, though, because if we confuse those two things, they can feel the same and we can kill the wrong thing.

Larry: So, the first tool in overcoming resistance to your vision, whether internal, external, or environmental, is tenacity. Develop a strong conviction about your vision and stick with it. The second tool is integrity.

Megan: This happened to us, actually, when we launched the Full Focus Planner. We have as a part of our vision script, the document that contains all of the components of our vision that you talk about, Dad, in The Vision Driven Leader… We have a vision for how we treat our customers. We want to create a “wow” customer experience. That lives under the marketing section of the vision script. That means we take total ownership of the experience our customers and clients have. The end-to-end experience is our responsibility to make excellent.

Well, in 2017, when we launched the Full Focus Planner, we created a preorder campaign for that, had many, many people a part of that. It was way more successful than we planned on, but as it became time to deliver on the date we had promised, there was an issue with the fulfillment. I don’t even remember the specifics of what went wrong, but at the time, it was like, “Oh, shoot! We are going to miss the day we said we were going to deliver these.”

Michael: I think it was a manufacturing deadline on the one hand, and then there was also…

Megan: Some kind of shipping issue.

Michael: Yeah, some kind of shipping issue.

Megan: Those two things together… I want to say we were at least a week or two past the date we had promised, and that’s the key word…promised our customers. We ended up deciding to expedite the shipping for those planners at our expense, and it cost us about $40,000, something we didn’t technically have to do. You could say, “Well, it wasn’t your fault.” But the truth is, as a matter of integrity, we had taken responsibility for the experience our customers had. That was part of our vision. So we decided to make that investment, really, in our vision and in our integrity for the sake of our customers, and it was hard.

Michael: It was hard. I think it’s not unusual. It has happened to me a couple of times, but when you have a vision, there’s always the temptation to somehow create a shortcut, somehow compromise your integrity. You can do it in small ways. We live in a world of compromise, and people say, “Well, it’s a little bit of a gray area. We didn’t really promise that” or “We didn’t get it in writing,” but the promise you make to your customer, the promise, if nothing else, that you make to yourself about achieving that vision… You really don’t want to compromise that.

Maintaining your integrity is important. Oftentimes, the thing I’ve seen, again, is that in maintaining your integrity, that becomes the lift that drives the vision forward. For us, I think it proved to our team, it proved to our customers that we were serious about this vision relating to their customer experience, that we were willing to reach into our own pockets, even if it meant $40,000 we didn’t anticipate spending, in order to make good on our word. That’s really what integrity is: making good on our word.

Megan: That’s right. This is where a vision is so critical. If you don’t have a vision, these decisions are really tough. Like, where do you exercise “integrity”? Where do you hold the line? But if you have a vision that clearly articulates who you say you are and what you’re pursuing, when the real situations pop up and you’re making decisions about your customer experience or your products or what kind of marketing you’re willing to engage in, it becomes clear really quickly what’s in alignment and what’s congruent with who you’ve said you are in your vision and what’s not.

Michael: This goes back to my publishing days. I had a vision when I was trying to turn a division of Thomas Nelson around that I had made to the team. Part of the vision was how I took care of the team and how I prioritized them. Almost immediately, we had an author who was just ugly, terrible to work with. In fact, he mistreated some of the people in our design team, and I had the head of my design come in in tears. She recounted to me what this author had said to one of her designers, and it was completely inappropriate, harassment. When I say harassment, I don’t mean sexual harassment. I just mean he was being rude. He was a jerk and completely out of line.

Well, I had a choice right then. I could basically say, “The customer is always right,” because, in a sense, the authors are the customers of the publisher. “The customer is always right. The authors are always right. We want to keep this guy happy, so just kind of suck it up. I’m sorry that happened, but go back to your work station and forge ahead.” But I didn’t, because it really ticked me off. I mean, I honestly can take a lot of mistreatment myself, but don’t mess with my people.

So, I called this guy up and said, “Look.” And as things sometimes happen, I had his contract on my desk to sign it. We were fast-tracking this project, and I was not yet in a contract with him. So I said to him, “Look. I’ve got this contract to sign, and I’m about to not sign it because of the way you treated one of my designers. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to call her up on the phone, and you’re going to apologize, and you’re going to make this right. Otherwise, I’m not going to sign this contract.”

So he did. He called her up. He apologized. It meant the world to the woman who received the apology, and it also meant the world to her boss who was the one who came in and complained to me. Now, unfortunately, I think I probably kind of coerced that behavior on the part of the author, because after that event, he reverted to being his old self, which was basically a jerk, so I ultimately had to fire him.

There was another incident where he treated one of our publicists even worse than he had treated the designer, and I called him up and said, “Look. I just want you to know this is the last conversation you’re going to ever have with me.” I said, “We did publish the one book. It’s out there in the wild, but we’re done working with you. I am not doing the next book, and we’re going to cancel the contract.” And I hung up on him. True story.

I thought to myself, “What have I done?” I thought, “I’m going to be in so much trouble with the agent.” So I called his agent, made the next phone call to his agent. His name was Tom. I said, “Tom, look. Here’s what I just did. I kind of feel badly about it, but I fired him.” He said, “You know, it’s about time somebody did. I’m going to do the exact same thing.”

Megan: That’s great.

Michael: Sometimes I think when we live by our values and we refuse to compromise our integrity, not only does it prove the vision to our team, but I think it also gives other people the courage to follow through and act with integrity too. Sometimes people know the right thing to do, and they just need somebody, even if they’re doing it in fear, to go first, and then it gives everybody the inspiration they need to live an integrous life.

Larry: So, the first tool for overcoming resistance to your vision is tenacity. The second tool is integrity. Let’s talk about the third tool: courage.

Michael: Vision begins with a burst of inspiration. You get inspired. People join in the emotion. It’s exciting, but here comes the resistance. You get buried in whatever it is…cost projections, timelines, design issues. The how starts to smother the why, and you can begin to see the momentum slipping, and the vision begins to slip out of sight as well. As the leader, if you don’t act, the vision is going to die, and that’s the moment that calls for courage.

Megan: I’ve had a story… Well, I’ve actually had many stories like this in my life that have been a moment where I had to exercise courage in service of the vision. One of the most profound, which I’ve talked about quite a few times now on the podcast and elsewhere was my fear of public speaking. There came a point where I knew that what was necessary for the achievement of our vision long-term was for me to step into a more public role, that I was going to literally and figuratively have to step onstage.

Unbeknownst to everybody else, I had a lifelong fear of public speaking. Like, totally debilitating, had avoided it in some pretty unbelievable ways. I finally decided, though, that no matter what, come hell or high water, I was going to finally beat this fear, because I was tired of my fear holding me back from what I knew was possible personally but also what I knew would hold the company back and our vision back if I wasn’t brave. So I decided to be courageous.

I think it’s important to say, as someone who, I feel like, struggles with anxiety and all kinds of fear on a regular basis, that courage never feels brave. Bravery, that feeling of confidence, is the reward for doing the brave thing, for being courageous. You don’t ever get a little package of courage before you have to go do the brave thing. I wish that wasn’t true, but personally, to me, that has actually been really freeing: to know that when I’m pursuing something big, I’m going to feel scared, and that’s just a reflection of how big it is, and it doesn’t need to determine my actions.

Michael: Totally. Dan Sullivan says that courage and confidence look exactly the same from the outside looking in. It’s only inside that they feel differently. You think, “Oh, Megan has a lot of confidence. She can step up onstage and give that speech. It was amazing.” No, that was courage. That wasn’t confidence at all. You get the confidence afterward, Dan says, and I think it’s a good insight.

Our friend and client Ruth Soukup has written an entire book on this called Do It Scared that I highly recommend. She goes deep into an analysis of what holds us back. Particularly when it comes to our vision, fear is often the thing that keeps us from moving forward, and it requires courage. If you’re going to do anything important, and particularly if you’re going to achieve a big, important vision and create that bigger, better future, you have to be able to screw up the courage when you need it. Were there any hacks, Megan, as you were going through that that you had to do?

Megan: Well, many. Many things. I tried to basically do everything I could think of or anything anybody told me, because I was so terrified, I thought, “I really need all the help I can get.” I hired a speech coach. I worked with an anxiety coach. I got anxiety medicine from my doctor, which I didn’t end up using but I was really glad to have. I did visualization exercises. I practiced extensively. I mean, really everything.

I still had a terrible panic attack the day before I gave that speech. It was awful, but then when I got up there, I was totally confident. All of the nerves were before. Once I stepped onstage, it was good. I have spoken since and felt nervous, so it’s not like a one-and-done kind of thing, but it’s no longer debilitating. As I think about this issue of courage related to vision, I think where this comes from is that vision is vulnerable.

When you’re connecting with a vision as a leader, you’re really connecting with your heart. You’re connecting with what you see that is not yet. You’re connecting with something you want to enroll other people in that they’re not yet enrolled in. All of those things put you in a position of being exposed. It’s important to recognize that, because I think the fear comes from that vulnerability.

You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if people are going to get behind you. You don’t know what they’re going to think. Vulnerability is a real part of leadership that we have to sort of make friends with. We’re not necessarily going to get comfortable with it, but we have to recognize that it shows up a lot for us and that that’s really in play.

Larry: I think there’s something important to highlight in what you said, Megan. The tips and tricks you mentioned about getting yourself on the stage were about managing the fear, but there was a primary decision that was related to your vision, and it was kind of taking a stand. “I will not give up my vision because of my personal fear.”

Megan: That’s right. I think that was the catalyst for me. I said, “If I have to die trying, I am not going to let this fear run my life anymore and ultimately keep me from the vision I’m trying to pursue. I’m not. I’m done with that. I don’t really care what the outcome is. If I get up on the stage and I’m humiliated and it takes me 10 more times to nail it…” Not that I wanted that to happen, but I was willing to do that, because it had cost me too much and I could see what it was going to cost our vision in the future for me to not act with courage.

Michael: I’d like to think these kinds of things for leaders are one and done. You know, you have this big moment of crisis where you have to take a stand for the vision. You have to exercise courage. “Phew! Got that behind me. I’ll never have to do that again.”

Megan: Yeah. I wish that were true.

Michael: But you have to keep doing this over and over again. This is a leadership skill you have to develop. I’m going to say it again. Courage is a leadership skill. It’s not a state of mind. It’s not an attitude, but it’s a skill you can develop, and the more you use it, like anything else, like a muscle… The more you use it, the stronger you’ll get at it, the easier you can go, “Oh yeah. That’s that fear thing. I’ve got to exercise some courage. Okay. Here goes.”

Megan: I think that’s really heartening, because I think when you’re in the early stages of exercising courage you don’t know that yet. Every time it comes up, you think it might kill you, and then you get through it. Once you’ve done that a few times and you’ve seen yourself show up… You’ve seen that “I can make it through it” or “I’m at my best when I’m under pressure” or you’ve seen something that felt really vulnerable be well received and you have those times to look back on, it does become easier to act with courage over time. So let that be an encouragement to you if maybe you haven’t done it quite so much. It gets easier even if you still feel scared.

Larry: Today we’ve learned there are three tools any leader can employ to overcome resistance to the vision. Those are tenacity, integrity, and courage. What are your final thoughts today?

Michael: I would just say that you’re going to encounter the resistance. That’s just a given. So what you want to do is be prepared for it. Don’t be surprised by it. Don’t think that something must be wrong with your vision if you’re encountering the resistance. Certainly take the feedback if you’re getting feedback that can make your vision better, but don’t take that as a sign that you’re off-track. Take that as an opportunity to grow and to refine the vision and to bring it into reality, but you have to use these three tools to do it.

Megan: I think at the heart of resistance and the threat of resistance is that our heart is involved. As a leader, one of the most precious things you have to cultivate is your own heart, because that is what people really connect with. That’s what people are going to get behind. It has to be genuine. It has to be something that people see as authentic and true, and I think the resistance threatens to shut that part of us down.

Remember that that’s part of what’s at stake when you’re encountering these obstacles, and fight for yourself. Use these steps we’ve shared today to keep your heart in a place that you can access it for the sake of your vision and for the sake of your company, because it’s vitally important to enrolling people in your future vision.

Larry: Michael and Megan, I think you’ve really shattered some stereotypes of what courageous leadership looks like, and it has been a good lesson.

Megan: Thanks, Larry.

Michael: Yeah, thank you, Larry. Thank you, Megan. Thanks all of you for listening, and we’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.