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Overcoming Resistance



CEOs can improve their strategic effectiveness by converting disagreement walls into bridges to alignment.


Why It Matters: Conflict may trigger fight instincts to use authority power that triggers the flight instincts in the rest of the leadership team resulting in ‘fake alignment’ that will fail the execution test.


The Big Picture: There is wisdom in our direction and some wisdom (maybe) in the conflicting direction. If we choose one direction over the other, we're not optimizing our strategic effectiveness.


Advocating for change

We usually face resistance when we advocate for change, and others don’t want to.


  • We emphasize the change's value because of a current problem.

  • The ‘resistance’ emphasizes the current state's value and change risk.


The threat to the value system of both sides and the fear of the consequences create a wall you experience advocating your position. Each side sees the other side as naïve.


Instead of overwhelming the resistance, try including the resistance. Don’t try to patronize somebody to join your side. Instead, reach a greater purpose by leveraging polarities.


Polarity Management™


Dr. Barry Johnson developed the Polarity Management™ framework to think, see, map, and leverage polarities in complex situations.


  • Disagreements and conflicts signal potential polarities.

  • Polarities hide in situations that don’t have a clear ‘either/or’ solution.

  • If there is a way to replace ‘either/or’ with ‘AND,’ you leverage the benefits of the two opposing poles and avoid the downsides of each one of the single poles.


Polarity Resistance Story


Chad, the CEO of an enterprise software company, wants to change the sales force comp plan because the cost of sales went off the roof in the last quarter, reducing profitability despite the sales growth.


Stacy, the CRO, strongly rejects any change in the comp plan, especially not at the beginning of the year. Hell NO! She claims the sales team outperformed the goals and deserves to earn more. She claims the drop in profitability is a product mix issue, not a sales performance issue. The shift of products should not punish her team.


Is it a Problem or a Polarity?


  • Problems have clear solutions (this way or the other). Polarities have no solution. They are unsolvable.

  • Problems have a short time frame. Polarities have a long time frame.

  • Problems have an endpoint. Polarities have no endpoint. They are enduring.


When you hear ‘OR,’ the alarm bell should go off.


“Is that true? Can I replace ‘OR’ with an AND?


  • The way I asked the question obstructed polarity thinking: “Is it a problem or a polarity?” Did it trigger your alarm bell?

  • When we ask questions as ‘either/or,’ we limit our effectiveness because we shut down Polarity Thinking™.


Polarity thinkers find hidden polarities in what looks like flat-out problems. 


Naming the Poles


The key for Polarity Thinking™ is to name the polarity's poles. The easiest way to name hidden polarities is by trying to identify FROM (Current State) TO (Desired State).



From a high-cost comp plan to a newly modified low-cost comp plan.

Well, that explains the change, but it’s not a polarity.

The polarity appears when you identify the values on each side of the conflict.


  • Chad advocates for CHANGE (modify comp plan to improve profitability)

  • Stacy advocates for STABILITY (Don’t rock the boat in uncertainty)


If we use Polarity Map™ to describe the upsides and downsides of each position, it will look like this:



Effectiveness at Play


Highly effective leaders don’t hit the wall of resistance. They don’t lock themselves in their advocacy. They dance around the Polarity Map™ in an unorthodox order:


  1. They share their concerns about the downsides of STABILITY

  2. They acknowledge the upsides of STABILITY  (Bypass the wall)

  3. They recognize what they heard about the downsides of CHANGE (Walk over the bridge)

  4. They advocate the upsides of CHANGE AND the upsides of STABILITY



Bringing It Home


If Chad leverages the upsides of CHANGE AND STABILITY, he won't hit the downsides of any of them.


If Chad pursues CHANGE and neglects STABILITY, he will face the downsides of that pole.


When you face resistance, embrace both poles' upsides and minimize the downsides.

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