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The Obstacle of Progress (Part 7)

I’m going to have to zero in on this subject, make the point as well as I’m able to, wrap this article up and move on. After all, we’ve spent seven months perusing this topic. We’ve cited numerous examples of movers and shakers and those who have resisted them. We’ve identified some common denominators that consistently accompany those who stubbornly push forward upon the path of progress. There are always naysayers. Nevertheless, these visionaries insist on their seemingly unreasonable aspirations. And then there are the painful unintended consequences that inevitably follow, what we have come to know as the obstacle of progress.

Sometimes even our best employees, peers and upper management make up the resistance. I’ve told you of a contractor friend of mine who faced the “obstacle of progress” repeatedly throughout his career. In fact, one of his best managers saw the trend toward technology coming and knowing the type business owner he worked for, could not help but expect the inevitable. So he just blurted out, “Don’t get me no damn computer!”

Battles with Upper Management

How does one such business owner face this type of showdown with their own upper management? Do they back off and stand by, allowing them to lead a mutiny from stern to bow? Eventually that anti-tech manager came around and the rebellion was snuffed out. Yes, in the recognition of the obvious benefit of this new tool (a computer), he reluctantly admitted he was wrong. But it was not without a struggle, and it took time.

It was a battle of wills. That business owner won that battle by sheer determination and perseverance. In the midst of that critical transition, my contractor friend put it like this: “It occurred to me one day as I struggled with a certain uneducated, technologically illiterate employee who was stuck because of changes I made to modernize our approach. I thought to myself, ‘If I hadn’t made these changes, good employees who were familiar with the old way of doing things, wouldn’t be struggling now., It would have been a lot easier just doing it the old way.” But then again, when had he ever been willing to just do things the old and easy way?”

So he asked himself a rhetorical question: What’s the difference in a pioneer with a broken-down wagon, stuck in the middle of nowhere but headed west, and a trade’s person who could have easily done things the old, familiar way, who instead struggles to cope with his computer skills? The answer? Nothing! It is one and the same.

As a leader, you have to be stubbornly relentless, or you don’t make significant change. My contractor friend set out on an unreasonable path—the path of progress. His mission: Take a 20th century business and its employees into the next millennium. In order to make that happen, he became somewhat unreasonable. He stripped employees of alternatives and forced them to take the new direction. It was a painful process, but well worth it.

It Hurts Me More Than You

As we have learned, this kind of effort is not without complications, and sometimes even the business owner I used in the example wondered if it was wise. But it had to be done or else the change required wouldn’t have occurred. If it did, it would have taken considerably longer. It (the change necessary) had to happen, and it had to happen at a pace that was doable for those who needed it. His response to the resistance had to be measured out and calculated according to the ability of the organization to respond. Push back, and the back-and-forth struggle was a way of life, but so was progress. Self-examination, and the ability to be honest with oneself as a leader, was critical. There are times when you must become judge and jury. You are in uncharted territory.

What you find is that progress creates its own obstacle as you force the transition. It causes many typical souls to balk, back off or even give up. Hopefully, you’re not one of them. Don’t settle for Kansas when you could have California. If you’ve set out for California gold, don’t settle for Kansas City dust. Don’t get stuck in Kansas. Commit yourself to the task at hand, and get yourself too far in to turn back.

Suffice it to say that not everyone wants to come along. You can expect everything from kicking and screaming, to the silent veto. But there is no such thing as change without resistance, and no way around the obstacle of progress.

Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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