Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to Deal With a Wall

One of the first dollars I made on a job was knocking through a wall in a New York City brownstone. I used a sledgehammer and it took me an entire day. I was twelve years old and I was paid a dollar in the form of a 1922 silver Peace Dollar. Not a bad deal for a 12-year-old, especially since I’ve still got that coin and its value has increased over the years.

Leaders who need to address change in organizations often find themselves hitting a wall of resistance. That resistance typically is not overt, antagonistic, and confrontational, rather, it comes in the form of entrenchment, lethargy, passive-aggressive behaviors, and sabotage.

A journalist assigned to the Jerusalem bureau takes an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Every day when she looks out, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. So the journalist goes down to the wall, and introduces herself to the old man. She asked: “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done that and what are you praying for?”

The old man replied, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning I pray for world peace and then for the brotherhood of man. I go home, have a cup of tea, and I come back and pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”

The journalist is amazed. “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” she asked.

The old man replied, “Like I’m talking to a wall.”

Sometimes leaders may feel that all their challenges and messages of vision and goals are like talking to a wall. The temptation may be to attempt a direct assault to knock down the wall or punch a hole in it. But often, taking the path of least resistance is the way to go. If you want to make progress, sometimes you should stop hitting your head against the wall and just go around it. There's no sense giving yourself a headache over something you can't change.

From, Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying systems theory for effective leadership.

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